Teaching the World is a welcome volume on online theological education that seeks to ground educational practice with a theological foundation. The work is a critically needed guide that directs leaders and administers in developing online education programs. Readers will find practical insight on program development on three levels: framework, faculty, and classroom.
An introductory chapter entitled, “Past Patterns and Present Challenges in Online Theological Education,” describes the delivery of theological education from the early days of correspondence in the eighteenth century to the current practice of providing multimedia curricula fully online. After advocating the legitimacy of online theological education, the authors maintain that educational institutions have often not built their online programs on theological foundations. Instead, they have unwittingly overlooked this step in their rush to launch programs for primarily pragmatic reasons – increased enrollment and profitability.
The balance of the book is divided into three sections. Section I, “Better Foundations for Online Learning,” examines the role of the Pauline Epistles in theological education, ministry preparation, and spiritual formation from a distance. The authors argue that Paul\'s Epistolary practice provides biblical support for theological education from a distance and an example of how to deliver it. Subsequent pages integrate “social presence theory” with Paul\'s epistolary practice, resulting in a conceptual framework for online program development.
Section II, “Better Faculty for Online Learning,” provides theological guidance for faculty roles in online programs. Here the authors argue for faculty who: (1) emphasize the spiritual formation of students over the mere transfer of knowledge, (2) demonstrate the ability to leverage the medium of online education to accomplish the desired outcomes for students, and (3) model the theological and professional standards for ministry. In such an environment, online faculty members embody the values of the institution and effectively facilitate the desired outcomes of programs.
Section III, “Better Practices in the Classroom,” maintains that the students’ ministry contexts make effective online learning possible. Students in online programs are typically older and engaged in some form of ministry. Consequently, online programs should incorporate adult learning theory and facilitate learning in the student’s ministry context – the local church serving as an active partner in ministry preparation.
A concluding chapter, “To Teach, to Delight, and to Persuade,” argues that online programs are not a replacement for residential programs, but are a means for developing stronger partnerships for ministerial preparation. This book’s emphasis on using theology as a conceptual framework for online theological education is its conspicuous strength.
Teaching the World: Foundations for Online Theological Education presents a grand vision for online theological education that is particularly valuable for leaders of theological schools who seek to develop online programs that are effective in fulfilling the educational outcomes of their institutions.
As post-secondary institutions, theological schools continue to participate in various forms of online learning, and the criticism (or question), “It’s not really the same as being in a classroom with a real instructor” is commonly heard. The simple reply to this concern is the concept of social presence. Starting with the initial definition of social presence from Short, Williams, and Christies (1976), this compilation of articles attempts to summarize the historical perspectives and present the current state of discussion, recognizing the constant updating of online course options.
The authors successfully present the historical perspectives, grouping them in three broad categories – as technologically facilitated, as learners’ perceptions, and as critical literacy. However, the chronological and developmental approach leaves the reader realizing the earlier chapters have minimal application to current teachers and learners since the understanding of social presence and the technology used have changed so dramatically. The initial discussions about social presence whether through computer-mediated communication or later within the community of inquiry framework were informative, but the reader quickly realizes that the later frameworks and models have improved. Thus the earlier discussions in the book are of little value for today’s teaching-learning environment. In essence, only the last section is relevant, except as historical background.
The editors demonstrate their breadth of knowledge of the literature and are involved with and connected to the latest research in social presence. A useful chapter (11), “Cultural Perspectives in Social Presence,” provides valuable guidelines for communicating effectively in a multi-cultural learning context. Multiple examples explain how one subset of students find an online learning activity contributes positively to social presence while those of another culture find it impacts social presence negatively. Variations in anonymity, informal chat, self-disclosure, trust building, and conflict resolution are considered. The chapter concludes with useful tips for monitoring and mediating communication which could be misunderstood because of cultural differences.
Likewise, various practices for building social presence into discussions, feedback, and interactions are shared throughout the book. The literature reviewed includes a range of educational levels from K-12 and post-secondary as well as a range of disciplines. The final section provides interesting chapters (17 and 18) about the future of online learning and incorporates social presence into various models of instruction. They suggest social media tools enable instructors to incorporate cohesive and affective elements into courses to enhance social presence. The authors conclude, “Never stop learning because life never stops teaching” (210).
The information shared is relevant for any faculty member teaching online, including theological and religious studies professors. While the final chapters contain valuable tips as noted above, I cannot recommend the book as a whole since it is predominantly a historical overview of the concept of social presence. Though it contains various up-to-date strategies in the closing chapters, it was tedious for the reader to sift through the detailed literature for meaningful insights.
Twelve articles clustered in four sections under this ambitious title evince a desire to promise revolutionary changes that have been associated with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs: term-based courses available to the mass free of charge via online media). The authors are truthful to this vision, offering vast ranges of topics including distance learning, open learning, innovations, academic administration, business management, and educational technologies. The book includes a detailed table of contents that provides a concise synopsis, and each chapter concludes with an extensive list of references and other resources.
Section 3 offers two articles with case studies. The first features a MOOC that deals with the problem of bullying in schools. It reflects on the use of test cases and finds that timely feedback is critical. The second examines LMOOCs (language MOOCs) that facilitate foreign language acquisition with the aid of mobile platforms. In LMOOCs, mobile devices function not only as a portal to the course site but also as a gateway to real-world language environments. The final section, which contains one chapter, outlines a planned course on mechatronics in a hybrid format, combining the benefits of the face to face approach and a MOOC.
The major strength of the book is that it provides guidelines for the implementation of MOOCs in practical terms, away from the clichéd terms (such as “revolution,” “hype,” or “innovation”) that are often associated with them. While the MOOCs revolution is rumored to be coming to an end, the authors assign to the movement a role that could still be made to higher education. To this end, the book calls for pedagogical refinements as well as a clear analysis of the financial viability of MOOCs.
Parenthetically, most of the authors assembled in this volume hail from social and geographical locations with European hues. It leaves one to wonder whether claims in this book would have been different if it also included North American or other global contexts, where the movement of MOOCs was born and is still growing.
“Learning in the 21st century has drastically changed how learners access and process information” (1). The authors of Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners begin by describing specific changes in higher education that directly impact student learning. This change is obvious. Several technologies are changing the landscape of higher education: electronic textbooks, learning management systems, large-scale institutional data, social media – each of these changes impacts student experience, and benefit from intentional pedagogical usage. These changes are more thorough in distance learning than in face-to-face contexts it seems. The authors present an idealistic call towards engaging and developing rigorous online education that harnesses its possibilities. As such, they advocate active and experiential learning that is high on transfer and reflection.
To a certain extent, this book seems to be incorrectly titled. Calling itself Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners leaves the reader with the expectation that the book contains examples of best practices. What the book does in actuality is to categorize several trends in pedagogy and in the scholarship of teaching and learning research. The focus is almost entirely theoretical. The book surveys experiential learning (13-33), project-based learning (36-39), scenario-based learning (39-43), gamification (47-57), cooperative learning (61-71), and assessment strategies (73-89). The summaries of these areas of pedagogy research are accurate and centralize much of the current research, but the most essential questions remain: how does an instructor take the content they need to present and make it engaging for students? How do instructors engage students in the learning process? What specific strategies empower students to have a higher degree of retention and transportability of what they have learned? On these questions, theory only gets us so far.
Having said this, the volume has some utility, particularly in that it provides an efficient summary of various mainline innovations in pedagogy research. For this reason, it would be valuable for an instructor new to teaching, or one looking to start making progress towards learning-centered instruction. It also might be worth discussing in a faculty learning community – provided that more seasoned instructors can flesh out the theory with examples from their teaching. The utility of this volume dramatically decreases for the seasoned teacher who has done reading or research into effective teaching practices.
Anyone who has developed an online course knows how important the design of the course is. Poorly designed courses make the course navigation difficult, causing unnecessary frustration and limiting the ability of students to achieve learning outcomes. The author of this book understands these difficulties. Drawing upon her own negative experiences with initial online offerings, she provides readers with important lessons on designing effective online experiences for both teachers and students.
Davis suggests, rightly, that the reader should use the text like a workbook, drawing from the ideas presented in the text as the reader creates her/his own course in the platform the reader uses. She encourages readers to draw upon the backward course design model: begin with learning objectives, discern appropriate ways to assess those objectives, and then generate online learning activities that will enable success in the course. Such alignment will promote student success.
The author provides an acronym, L.I.T.E., for the design framework she encourages. Readers should be sure to create clickable links to external content (L), integrate well the multimedia included (I), use typography and white space to enhance the legibility of the course (T), and embed the content at the point of need (E). She identifies four types of content pages that should be part of the design: landing page, navigation page, instructional page, and assignment submission page. Of course, most learning platforms will provide these. The key, she contends, is to create them in a way that achieves the course objectives and is user-friendly for the student.
The remainder of the chapters illustrate how readers can develop the various components of a good online course, including images and videos, integrating multimedia, facilitating instruction and interaction, and the all-important assessment. Davis provides helpful hints regarding the tools included in software such as PowerPoint, like using it to download and edit images or to incorporate online media. She also points to a number of free online tools one can use to develop a course, such as the presentation tool Brainshark, and the interaction tool VoiceThread. At the same time, she cautions users not to incorporate too many technologies into the course. The focus should be on learning the content of the course, not on overwhelming students with too many technologies.
As with any text, there are some limitations. Parts of the book require knowledge of html language. Many faculty do not know html language because they use software to develop their courses that does this automatically. In addition, for a book that emphasizes visual design, many of the illustrations are difficult to read, leaving the reader to wonder how well the text follows its own advice on legibility. Yet over all, the text is a useful step-by-step guide for developing an online course or for improving the visual design of existing courses.