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