KaBoom! Goes the Classroom: Should the Internet Get Rid of You?

A new wind is blow in’ and it’s coming to a Bible School near you:

Class dismissed.
Everybody go home and study on line or by correspondence.
Classrooms and teachers are a relic of the past.

If you think this is a figment of imagination, think again. According to many studies by prominent universities, on-line correspondence style curriculum is on a dramatic rise. Survey respondents cite independence, ease of access, reduced cost, convenience, and faster pacing as just some of the reasons for the popularity of “goin’ it alone in the comfort of your home.”

“We are at an inflection point in online education,” says Philip R. Regier, the Dean of Arizona State University’s Online and Extended Campus program. He cites a Department of Education Study that indicates high school students did better academically with online studies as compared to traditional classroom instruction. Such empirical evidence and the pervasive presence of the Internet is a portend of things to come.
“Oh my…so what’s a mother to do??”

These trends would seem to call into question the need for classrooms and traditional teachers at the local level…but…

Not so fast, Mr. InternetBrowserStudentLearner. And let hope arise all you Bible School teachers and Missionary Educators. There are some very good reasons why internet/correspondence style learning can´t replace you. Here are four reasons why higher theological educators should never bow to the altar of learning slouched on a couch or at an Internet Cafe near you.

1) Classroom learning is community The African proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child.” Internet studies with no input from a community of fellow learners and trained educators invokes the danger of “educating” the village idiot.

One of the most important aspects of classroom instruction and learning in community is relationship. In Latin America there is a strong emphasis of spiritual covering. Students coming to Bible School must show they are in good standing with a local church. They must come with the encouragement and blessing of a local pastor. While there are extremes to this tradition, the vast majority of cases help our Bible Schools to weed out those who are not good candidates for ministry. Some people have moral/ethical issues in their lives that preclude them from a life of service in a church. This certainly doesn’t qualify anyone as a village idiot. Yet we must understand that not everyone who thinks they should get into the ministry really ought to go there.

With online education…a couple of clicks, drop a credit card, Pay Pal or bank account number, and you are a full blown candidate for ministry studies. Forget all considerations concerning criminal background, marital status, immigration status or for that matter the 16 Fundamental Truths. You got money, baby, you’re can study online!
Educating young men and women for life in the ministry within the dynamic community of classroom interaction is enriching. It creates life-long friendships and alliances. It creates trust and invites vulnerability. It encourages interaction, debate, negotiation, and creative resolution. Try that on your couch at midnight with a slow internet connection or filling in the blanks of a workbook for a correspondence course. If “on liners” try to do all these interactive conversations alone in their own heads, they’ll soon be needing a one-on-one with a psychiatrist to get rid of all those voices.

2) Classroom instruction is mentoring Christian educators understand that transferring academic information is but one of several primordial goals. Along with information comes illustration, comparison, invitation, evaluation along with a few other things. Christian educators do this with the group and also one-on-one.
Paul’s instructions in I Timothy 6:18 can only be done in a community of learning through the mentoring relationship “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” The formation of capable Christian workers requires us to exercise spiritual authority in our teaching, to inspect, and give positive feedback to the students. It would take 20 pages of writing and a lot of verbiage to do as good a job as launching out for two minutes with “Let me ‘splain somethin’ to ya ‘all.”

To all the self-instructing couch potatoes…good luck on the self-mentoring.

3) Classroom instruction is “getting to know you” “If love is blind, marriage is a real eye-opener.” The same is true of getting to know and understand students within the classroom. There is a difference between someone acquiring informatoin who sits it out alone at home or supping coffee in an internet cafe somewhere in Latin America. It’s an entirely different thing to see that person functioning in close quarters as a student in relationship with others.

Some students have their hands up in the air with a question every three minutes. Others are argumentative or challenge every pronouncement. Others are lazy and don’t hand in homework on time, or its sloppy and always done with the minimal effort. Yet some students are meticulous, articulate, outstanding in their spirit and demeanor. Every one of these things are important in understanding the materia prima we are working with.
Years after a student finishes Bible School and goes on into life or ministry is an opportunity in formation. Christian educators who know the personality of their students, who see their mental and/or spiritual tendencies and have created a relationship of trust and mutual appreciation can have a powerful affect for years to come.
Jesus said “Go and make disciples”. He did not say “Go and make Kindle buddies” or for that matter iPAD friendlies or even computer geeks. Discipleship is created by mentoring, coaching, praying together, relating to and living in community.

There is an increasing drumbeat for technology to merge into ministry. If you will allow me to say so in the right spirit, I probably know more about computers, video editing and available technology than at least 51% or the other people in our field. But even then there is something clear to me having been in the ministry for a few student generational cycles. The personal classroom student/prof relationship can’t be replaced by a program or CD, online course or workbook.

4) Classroom instruction is a calling Okay, let’s admit it. I am an evangelist. My primary calling is not “Teacher”. I am involved with ISUM throughout Latin America about three to six times a year, but I sometimes it’s frustrating. After about a week of constant classes it begins to dawn on me that our class hasn’t grown one person. No one has gotten saved. No one brings a visitor. No one is getting healed, filled with the Holy Ghost or delivered from demons. They won’t even let me take offerings in the classroom! Hey, it’s an adjustment for an evangelist to teach. Yet I have learned how transformational the personal contact and daily classroom experience as a teacher can be in the lives of our students.

My wife’s family is filled with teachers. It’s a Calling. They are willing to teach in classrooms with no air-conditioning, grade papers all afternoon and into the night, often skip meals or breaktime to meet with a student or two in need of help, go to bed late and be up at the crack of dawn day in and day out.
Clearly there will never be a time when a Christian classroom instructor is obsolete. Why? Because people create relationships with people. People need encouragement and orientation, they need to pray together and weep in chapel. People respond to love. People need to walk the journey with their teacher like the disciples did with Jesus. It makes life beautiful.

If that’s not a calling, I’ll eat my correspondence course.

By Mike Shields

12 Replies to “KaBoom! Goes the Classroom: Should the Internet Get Rid of You?”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It kind of goes without saying that I am in complete agreement. However, the response of the US church during this round of itineration would lead me to believe that many of our supporters do not agree. We have not returned to the anti-intellectual days of the past, but for most education seems like a hoop that must be jumped through. Some districts in the US have started what we here in SCal call School of Ministry. Each course is two Saturdays. That includes the final exam time, which takes up half of the second day. Keep showing up on Saturdays, taking the exams and you wind up with a ministerial credential. There is little time for relationships.

    None of my comments are intended in anyway to contradict your concerns. I think you are on the right side of the issue. What I wonder is, has the tide already taking the traditional classroom teaching out to sea?

  2. Good word, Mike. Well put. I agree with you that it is all about relationship and person to person interactions. I think technology should be a tool that enhances our ministerial education/teaching.

  3. Great article Mike! They may try, but they won’t replace classroom teaching. Even though independent study has been around for a long time, it was not as pervasive as the new models that the Internet offers. I guess my question is what do we look for to measure how effective (or ineffective) these non-classroom really are, especially for Christian Education? The church is all about community. Can the church really educate in a non-community environment?

  4. Great insight, Mike! I agree that nothing will take the place of the first component of God’s call (Jesus in Mark 3:14, called them “that they might be with him”). Later, of course, He sent them out to preach and repeat the process with others. Sitting together and learning and praying with others give us the chance to see the fire in the eyes of our teachers, and the opportunity to learn from the actions and reactions of our cohorts. Thanks for the great thoughts!

  5. I’ve noticed that statistically, a much lower percentage of “non-residential” students ever get into full time ministry. If they can’t (or won’t) leave their family, job or home town, they often won’t move to a place that needs ministry.

    Also, we’ve had to “weed out” students whose conduct was not up to expected Christian standards. They might have “slipped by” and caused a church disaster, had they not been culled out earlier.


  6. Wow, Mike! Great article. It’s evident that you took time to meditate and to write it. Thanks! Catches our attention and helps us keep our balance in these challenging times. Today in my evangelism class I went through the eight principles of Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism. Just will not work without personal contact from the mentor to the mentee to the disciple to the not-yet-believer, they all need face to face contact and Skype or IChat is close but not quite there.
    We have given a few years of our lives to resident training and would do it again in a heartbeat. It’s totally worth it. So nice to know that a Missionary Evangelist like yourself is in agreement. By the way, you and Mona have been some of our best encouragers in this journey.

  7. Excellent job, Mike. As always, thought provoking and powerfully presented. Thanks for the part you do in promoting and participating in ISUM. You are indeed an example and an encourager.

  8. Mike, Outstanding job!!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to research this topic and write such an excellent article. This needs to be published. I agree with all my dear friends who are sharing their feedback about this. I especially agree with your first point, about classroom learning as community. I have known for years that the key to the success ISUM has enjoyed for over forty years has been that component. (It sure isn’t the great sleeping quarters or the gourmet food.) It’s the wonderful community that develops within the seminar that keeps ISUMistas coming back for more, declaring themselves to be “siempre ISUMista!” That is something you simply cannot generate with a website or put in an envelope and mail to someone. Education, especially in Latin America, is a social experience, and nothing is going to change that.

    I have deep concerns for how ministerial training in the US is slipping away from our Bible school campuses – to wit, the necessary merger of the Springfield schools – and this is very much due to high costs of campus-based education. We need to continue to strive to find ways to provide the best classroom-based ministerial training programs possible, at the most affordable cost to our students.

    Thanks again, Mike. Blessings for you and Monita.

  9. Bravo Mike. I share your analysis of the importance of personal contact in the Christian educational context. I would even push the discussion further by questioning the wisdom of using so much electronic media in the typical classroom environment. If it can be demonstrated that power points produce more effective church planters then fine, but I am skeptical.

  10. Mike, I deeply appreciate your insights. It is a great privilege to teach in a classroom. You motivated me to use the classroom to make disciples, or if you prefer, to develop Christ followers. As a missionary I worried a lot if my only contact with a student was in the classroom. You challenged me to see the classroom as a place where community is birthed and mentoring can begin, an indispensable means toward an end, not an end in itself.

    Our Bible schools, ISUM, Facultad and the Caribbean School of Theology offer wonderful opportunities. It is a joy to play soccer with students, eat meals together, laugh and cry with one another, even minister together in other settings.

    I echo the sincere appreciation to Mike and MonaRe for your ministry and example in rubbing shoulders with the finest of Latin America. Thanks!

    Gary Wornica

  11. Thanks, Mike, for all that you and Mona do – including writing this article! Great perspectives.

    I, too, wear more than one “ministry hat,” and I find over and over again that being a missionary educator is great for the prof as well. My life is enriched by my contact with the students. I have some amazing students and former students that serve the King and Kingdom in significant ways. Last week I did a seminar for a former ISUM student in Bolivia, which developed into many other ministry opportunities that reached way beyond the original intent of the invitation. (I went to do a seminar on Counseling Issues for Children and the add-ons included meeting with influential women who are involved in abuse issues, ministry to about 400 adolescents, and work with a group of 50 university leaders who deal with a lot of sexual dysfunction. All that came as a result of one student who sat in my class and dreamed of an event that would impact his city. I cannot imagine him seeing that potential via taking an on-line course.)

    Bless you,

    P.S. I am not against on-line courses per se. I thoroughly enjoyed one I took that helped me get a required subject that I needed to graduate from CBC without having to wait for it to become available again on campus. They are a wonderful resource to help supplement education when the best options (classroom settings) is not available to the student.

  12. I don’t believe it is an either/or question. I believe both mediums will be around for a long time. How many educators have toiled away to produce the ICI or Global University materials? I guess they believed it met a need. Online education seems to be here to stay, it seems to meet a need. The question is what can we do to insure that these internet students get the best education for their efforts? Can we make education on line more interactive? Who said qualifying requirements to study on line would be any less for a ministerial student than to attend a Bible School? Can we assign hands-on ministry activities that can be done in the local church setting. Why can’t we mentor online? On the social aspect, it is interesting how home-schoolers have been criticized with the same argument. Yet a majority of them continue to outshine normal public school students. Majority world economies may see this as a truly feasible way to educate their ministry candidates. Yes, and what about the Kindle to Cuba experiment?
    Teaching in a classroom to me is a wonderful and special event, there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing that smile of understanding come across a student’s face. Or getting battered with questions that indicate you have scratched where it itches. I don’t believe we have to fear being out of a job. The internet teacher may miss these experiences. It will certainly be more one to one. But someone will have to do it.

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