Exploring Educator Perceptions of Need, Sustainability, and Impact of Global Online Theological Courses

Exploring Educator Perceptions of Need, Sustainability, and Impact of Global Online Theological Courses

Andrew J. Beaty (College of Education, School of Teaching and Learning, Illinois State University, Normal, IL, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijicte.2014040102

Abstract

Concerns regarding the potential for delivering theological education internationally and in an online format have been raised. The scarce research in this area points to the need for further investigation. The current study involves the use of a qualitative research design to explore experienced educators' perceptions on the need, sustainability, and impact of delivering theological content globally through online courses. The findings from educator interviews demonstrate the need for the development of international partnerships and the delivery of culturally relevant online theological courses in ways that allow students around the globe to gain access to theological training in modes that work for them.
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Overview

In recent years, there has been an explosion of online courses, programs, and degrees offered by colleges and universities (Rogers & Howell, 2004). Picciano, Seaman, and Allen (2010) state, ‘For the past two decades, online learning has made significant inroads in American education’ (p. 17). Parker, Lenhart, and Moore (2011) also report that 89% of public institutions and 60% of private colleges offer online classes. This expansion has allowed institutions of higher learning to reach many students who may not be able to attend their ‘brick and mortar’ facilities. By offering online courses, students are able to take classes wherever they are able to get access to the Internet. Students are also able to maintain their current home and job without the stresses of relocating for the purposes of continuing their educational journey (Hines et al., 2009; Maddix, 2010; Rogers & Howell, 2004).

Religious institutions across the world are also in the business of developing and experimenting with distance education (Rogers & Howell 2004) nationally and beyond the borders of the United States (Wright, Dhanarajan, & Reju 2009). When it comes to the research on global learning, ‘the use of distance learning by religious institutions is a relatively unexplored and un-researched area’ (Rogers & Howell 2004, p. 13). Hines et al. (2009) state that for theological education, ‘Online delivery promises to expand outreach into a potentially limitless global market in a cost-efficient manner’ (p. 32). In discussing theologically based schools, Blier (2008) reports, ‘the majority of higher learning institutions employ at least some form of distance learning for continuing education and non-traditional students’ (p. 25). By doing this, they are able to expand the scope of their global influence as they train students around the world.

Wright et al. (2009) list several reasons for using modern technology to expand access to education by offering learning in both synchronous and asynchronous options and using a variety of models such as lectures being delivered online via video and hybrid courses that involve both online and face-to-face components (Delmarter et al., 2011).

As theological institutions continue to grow in the area of online education, there is the need to conduct broader research to explore the need, impact, and feasibility of sustaining such trends or opportunities especially for global student populations. The purpose of my study, therefore, was to investigate the perceptions of educators involved in global theological education towards these issues. Again, these three areas are critical questions that need to be answered in order to make decisions about how to move forward with online theological education.

Research Questions

  • 1.

    To what extent do educators see the need for institutions to offer online courses in theological fields in a global setting?

  • 2.

    What are educators’ perceptions for the long-term sustainability and impact of global online theology courses?

Significance Of The Study

This study adds to the knowledge base upon which more research on global theological education can be built and evaluated. This research also has the potential to launch an entirely new discussion among educators who teach on a global level.

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