Guest Post: An Online Pedagogy
This post is the first in a series of reflections by VTS students enrolled in a CMT-initiated independent study entitled Digital Media for Ministry. Here Justin Ivatts reflects on his experience teaching an online bible study class with Adobe Connect. You can read his scriptural reflections on Biblische Ausbildung, the blog of VTS Old Testament professor Stephen Cook.
Most modern-minded educators would argue that online education is the way of the future. Now our lives are so busy that it is a lot easier just to click a hyperlink in an email and attend a class than get in a car and drive 30-60 minutes, attend a face-to-face class, and drive the same amount home again. Many people now study for their entire degrees online. It is the one-off class type of teaching that this post is interested in, however.
Recently I had the opportunity to teach an online class on a passage within the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. I found this to be an extremely worthwhile exercise. Currently Virginia Theological Seminary offers a Bible Briefs series of short introductions to books of the Bible aimed at the lay person. I would like to see this online education become a component of that.
Some of the aspects of designing an online course are pretty similar to a classroom course. The research needs to be done so you know your subject matter; the script needs to be prepared along with any visual aids. If visual aids are important in the traditional classroom, they are at least twice as important in online learning, since you only have a very small webcam picture of yourself in order to connect with your students through body language. The aids are your main connection tool.
Judith Boettcher and Rita-Marie Conrad argue that the main pedagogical model that is needed with online learning is a student-centered approach. They say that the other piece can be added around the outside: the content, the environment and the mentor (Boettcher, Judith V., Conrad, Rita-Marie. 2010).
The content refers to the knowledge that is being transferred from teacher to student. The environment is obviously online but is far greater than that; it can refer to the platform being used. What are the capabilities that can be employed to enhance the learning experience? Lastly, the mentor is the teacher who designs the course and ensures that the learning objectives are met via formal or informal assessment.
It is important to set clear, measurable objectives and ensure they have been met. In the type of class that I taught, informal assessment was fine. This can be as simple as asking the students to describe concepts that you have covered or utilizing the platform and polling individuals to gauge interpretation. It is important when teaching online to avoid the temptation to utilize all the bells and whistles of the software for no apparent reason. Every interaction you have through whatever means must have an objective for its use.
Also, it is important to realize that not all your participants will be as familiar with the platform as you are and as tech savvy as you are. A mistake I made when teaching my class was not to have my email open. I discovered after the fact that a participant had emailed me because she was having difficulty logging in. Unfortunately, by the time I saw her email it was too late.
Online teaching is the way of the future and can be extremely effective but it MUST be done right.
Boettcher, Judith V., Conrad, Rita-Marie. The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010.