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On a Virtual Seminary Education

Spire of First United Methodist Church
Image by unca_cthulhu via Flickr

Jason Byassee explains why he voted to allow up to 2/3 of seminary credits to be taken online in his United Methodist conference (HT: Joel Watts).

Readers of this blog will already be aware that I believe it’s inevitable that the majority of education is delivered by virtual means. Not only that, I think this is a good thing. I think it will make it possible to deliver a higher quality education. There is always resistance to new technology, because it takes away from our old standard ways of doing things. But instead of fighting such technology, which is still just a tool, we need to find ways to use it to make things work better.

I think our current concept of a university, a college, and a seminary are doomed. But that doesn’t mean that there is nothing good in those concepts. There are experiences that do need to be carried out together. But those classroom lectures with hundreds of students ignoring the professor can be replaced by more efficient means, and we can spend our money, and the precious time of quality teachers on the most important things.

For example, I recall preparing lessons for my later classes while occupying a seat in a class on Daniel and Revelation, and then getting a comfortable ‘A’ in the course. I could have learned more by spending those hours online. Could the professor have done better? Absolutely. But he also had to deal with about 50 students, so detailed discussion of all points involving all of us would have been impossible.

On the other hand I would not want to exchange my time studying Greek exegesis with Dr. Sakae Kubo for anything else. There we had half a dozen serious students, and we made that time with an expert count.

Dr. Byassee comments on hands-on education, such as learning how to take the hand of a dying person. There’s where I think even seminary fails. I have talked to many seminary graduates who are uncomfortable praying with a member of their congregation when they graduate. They have to become comfortable as they pastor. Here the local church needs to be involved. I wonder why a young person, especially one contemplating full-time ministry, would be allowed to get through their youth in church without learning how to pray with one another.

I’d think strong local church involvement plus a good online program with additional time spent in person at a seminary (weekends, weeks, months, sabbatical years) would be a good formula. All of those elements should be lifelong, and not just during a time of preparation.

In my view, social media and virtual education will only hurt us if we don’t learn how to make the best of the resources available.

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