Isolated students and internet learning

Our big problem, certainly for the sort of believers we are, is that most of us live in isolation spread far away from each other all over the world.

The online environment potentially intensifies the isolation a student might experience in any language-learning process or in an absence of face to face guidance how to study the Bible.

Logo for Google HangoutsA coaching system via Google Hangouts, Zoom, WhatsApp or Skype can help. For us it seems the communication software product developed by Google is best working on an IOS system, because on Windows we encounter too many interruptions. Our Sunday and Wednesday services and Bible studies are broadcast on Google Hangouts and give a great opportunity to feel connected over the seas.  Each student also has the opportunity to ask questions and to receive answers from those present in the ecclesiae (in England and Belgium).

For the bible studies it is very handy to have coaches assigned who can each help five students in their weekly Hebrew and/or  Greek exercises and Bible analysation in real time. To succeed, of course one needs natural encouragers. At the same time there has to be a certain regularity everybody can cope with, taking into account that most people have their daily tasks for work and at home. Both regular accountability and the encouragement and the positive drive of the one in charge or leading the study are needed to succeed.

In a face to face (f2f) setting, an hour-long class or twice 50 minutes sessions often includes a lecture punctuated by frequent student questions and large- or small-group discussion. In an online video or narrated presentation, there might no such opportunity for give-and-take, so it can be helpful to provide the needed lecture material in smaller doses, potentially between eight and twenty minutes. If you have a longer stretch of material, it can be interesting to record it in smaller segments and then playlist these recordings. The sequence is maintained, but students are able to view and review the lecture in its smaller units. Intern video’s or podcast can give the students the ability to study the 8 to 10 minutes videos or sound recordings at a time which is most convenient for them. Reviewing them together at an internet meeting has everybody than updated about content and able to come forward with prepared (home)work.

One of the misconceptions about teaching online is that you need to be really good at technology to be a good online instructor. Some of the professors who are most beloved by our online students struggle with technology. What they bring to their classes is a passion for their discipline and a deep commitment to relational dimensions of teaching. Seminary students want to know and be known in their classes. If you are committed to caring for your students, they will respond and engage.

Google Docs iconYet it is important to stretch ourselves in the area of technology. Given that technologies are always developing and improving, consider trying out something new, especially if it fits well with your discipline and teaching style.
I was an early adopter of wiki pages (now eclipsed by Google Docs) because it was a great tool for my New Testament courses that provided a platform for collaborative writing. Students can study a text together, each providing their comments, and I am able to rearrange and thematize the material so it can be used productively in follow-up discussions.

We always have to remember that students need mentors who have enough knowledge and background. And professors, as mentors, need to be intentional — with

“not the least shyness.”

Mentors do have to represent:

“knowledge, reflection, insight, wisdom cleverness, and intuition”

and they have to have something of a particular or personal ‘personality’ who show the willingness to share and to give. To be able to give enough one has to have enough luggage. But one also has to have trust in what one knows and how one thin-ks to share it best. Every teacher has another way to do so. But no tutor may come in front of their pupils unsure  or insecure or sheepish or abashed.

Often, even without our knowing it, students mimic us and model themselves after us. They sense our fear.

Yet we need to be intentional in establishing mentoring relationships with our students. Standing in front of those who are eager to learn, one has to be showing that one is willing to share knowledge and to help out those who do now know yet or who are not sure yet about the material to conquer. They have to feel you are motivated to help them out and to be on the same line as them, interested in a lot of material to explore and to cover. It is not as such the method or formula you use to mentor that counts.

Some professors are very good at meeting students for discipleship. They host Bible studies in their offices and have sign-up sheets on their office door for one-on-one meetings.

Others are very good at providing the important mentoring role of sponsorship, much like the relationship between Moses and Joshua (Exod 24:13; Num 11:28; 27:15ff.) or Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs 19:19ff.; 2 Kgs 2:2–13), and to a lesser degree Jeremiah and Baruch (Jer 43:3). These mentors suggest applying to graduate programs or scholarship opportunities, write letters of recommendation, and invite students to tag along with them to academic conferences.

Also participating in undergraduate research projects can be a form of being mentored. Receiving the opportunity to participate in project can also give more assurance to the students and helps them to be more motivated to dig deeper in the study material.

At the same time as having professors, guides and mentors the students have to see good examples and have to get inspired by seeing the fire in those in front of them.

Many mentors perhaps do not feel their right position or feel that they only can be just some guiding help. They should not worry and be pleased and make the best effort to be just really good guides. There are numerous examples of guides or counsellors in Scripture: Moses’ father-in-law (Exod 18:19); Balaam (Num 24:14); Ahithophel (2 Sam 15:12); Nathan the prophet (1 Kgs 1:11); Deborah (Judg 5); the wise woman of Abel (2 Sam 20:14–23); and the wicked queen mother of Ahaziah (2 Chr 22:3)

Bohlinger recommends:

Don’t be shy in approaching students; don’t wait for them to come to you.
Some students are assertive in asking faculty members to serve as their mentor, but many students will not take the initiative. Sometimes the quieter, more reticent students are the best mentees. They’re delighted to receive advice or pointers and are just too scared to ask.

Therefore take the initial steps yourself after having looked at the available candidates.

Bohlinger continues:

Consider ways to foster peer relationships among students, as well as your own relationship with students. All interaction doesn’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) between student and instructor. By helping students connect with each other, you will enhance their opportunities for learning. I’ve also learned to take my cues from the students themselves in pursuing relationships further. I look for signals that a student may want to connect outside of usual in-course channels and then follow up with an invitation for a potential synchronous connection.

For the online courses it is important to highlight coherence in the course, as students will not easily infer these connections (e.g., making connections between sets of ideas as we introduce a new lecture topic).

Never forget that colleagues are not competitors, but are additional assets to reach a goal together. One can always benefit from new ideas and technologies colleagues are using. One of the great values of being in a learning community is the propensity of teachers to share their ideas with one another.

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Preceding

A Worldwide Vision for Theological Education

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Find also to read

  1. Lonely in the crowd
  2. Illusion of Separateness
  3. Even with a few gathering
  4. Companionship
  5. Not staying alone in your search for truth
  6. Reflections on Existence and Teaching
  7. Being in isolation #3 Gathering and Sharing
  8. Being in isolation #4 Man’s greediness, slackness, internet, friends and social contacts
  9. Being in isolation #7 Mission work
  10. 8 fears caused by the fear of Man
  11. The first on the list of the concerns of the saint
  12. Laboring in the Vineyard or Sitting on the Hillside with Jonah?
  13. When God Moved a Mountain
  14. Learning from ourselves

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