The latest issue of Didaktikos carries a short essay of mine about presence in online higher education. I’m grateful to the folks at Faithlife for their permission to distribute the essay here, the essence of which is that presence is possible online—it’s just different than it is on campus.
I’ve recently had the opportunity of working through Andrew Babyak’s article, “A Teaching Strategy for a Christian Virtual Environment” (Journal of Research in Christian Education 24, no. 1 : 63–77). A number of Babyak’s reflections are quite insightful and helpful. According to the abstract,
The current landscape in education is changing rapidly as online learning programs are experiencing great growth. As online learning grows, many professors and students are entering into new learning environments for the first time. While online learning has proven to be successful in many cases, it is not a journey upon which Christian professors or students should begin without some preparation. This article articulates a basic Christian teaching strategy by providing recommendations for those who are entering the online environment for the first time or desire to improve their online teaching effectiveness. These principles and recommendations are presented so that Christian professors can create Christian virtual environments in which they can have a significant impact on their students’ spiritual development in an online environment. It is critical that professors design their courses with the needs of online students in mind, ensuring that students of all learning styles are able to excel. Furthermore, professors should understand that online teaching often takes more time than traditional methods of teaching, increasing the importance of clear instructions and communication with students.
Spiritual formation continues to be an important element in Christian education. As Christian education continues to explore online modes of executing its mission, it is necessary for Christian education to give careful thought to the unique challenges that online modes involve for the spiritually formative aspect of its mission.
As one more preliminary way of puzzling out how “online” and “spiritual formation” might fit together in this context, I’ve uploaded to Academia.edu a draft of a current project that tries to address this question. Comments, thoughts, suggestions, and questions on the project are most welcome either here or on the review session page at Academia.edu.
Since September 2013, I’ve had the privilege of serving the Faulkner University community as the director of Faulkner University Online. Over that time, the effort has blossomed, and the university now enrolls about a quarter of its total student body in online degree programs, ranging from associates- to doctorate-level.
I deeply appreciate the opportunity to have been involved with Faulkner Online as we have sought, step by step, not only to serve more students but also to create for them a caring, Christian environment where every one of them matters every day. In Faulkner’s next fiscal year, plans are continuing to take shape around my transitioning into a more teaching- and research-focused role with Faulkner’s F. Furman Kearley Graduate School of Theology.
To that end, a search is now open for a qualified and conscientious individual to fill my current role, starting 1 June 2017, as director of Faulkner University Online. When identified, the new director will lead a team dedicated to making students’ experiences with Faulkner Online truly worthy of being called “Christian education”—what is worthy of Χριστός (Christ) having always within it the vocation of being χρηστός (excellent; cf. Justin Martyr, 1 Apol. 4).
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Maren Wood suggests that institutions should be more intentional about preparing PhD students for the possibility of non-faculty or non-teaching careers. Maren’s first suggestion is especially salient and recommends, in part,
While there are graduate students who decide that an academic career is not for them, most say their first objective is a faculty career. There is no way to know who will or won’t be successful on the academic job market, so all students should be encouraged or required to take professional courses.
How quickly a newly minted PhD might find a post and what kind it will be is also a definite question mark. But, new graduates who are able to identify and come to terms with the market opened to them by their field-specific and other transferable skills and passions will certainly find themselves in a better position to find a place for themselves within that market.
For the rest of Maren’s reflections, see the Chronicle’s website.