By John Gallo, MS, MBA – Dean of Graduate, Adult, and Online Education
Online education has woven itself into the fabric of higher education. However, the concept can still be a controversial one in small, private, and Christian colleges. These schools often consider the small class size as a distinct advantage in relation to its larger university counterparts.
Many small traditional residential schools believe it is this interpersonal, small group dynamic that creates a uniqueness to the higher education experience. Hence, it cannot be replicated. Thus, the perception is that this disappears when the school goes online. Christian colleges often maintain that one of its core values is Biblical integration. To online neophytes, this can also appear lost when the school decides to go online.
Scriptural Precedence for Distance Learning
For instance, when Geneva College decided to move its adult program online in 2013, I, too, faced these questions and skeptics. The seal of Geneva College shows an open Bible to continually remind us that the Holy Scripture is the foundation of truth. Thus, it is the source all other common knowledge is judged against. Thus, to begin our online development, I first looked to Scripture to see if there were guiding principles that could help inform Geneva College in its move into online education.
To begin, we must first define what distance or online education is. In its basic form, it is the use of a medium to allow an educator to teach his pupils while not being physically present with them. The “look” of this changes as the technology of the era changes. However, distance learning has been in existence for thousands of years.
For example, in looking at Scripture, most of the New Testament is written in this manner. Imprisonment caused many of the early church leaders to be unable to be physically present to help educate the early church. So, they wrote letters (which became canonized into our New Testament).
The Apostle Paul’s Example
The apostle Paul is an excellent example. Afterall, Paul, fearful that he may not be able to get to see the church in Rome in person (Rom 1:11-13) uses the technological medium of the day (a letter) to educate that church from afar. As a result, the Book of Romans is perhaps the deepest theological book in all of scripture. From Paul’s example, we can learn some key principles for distance education:
- In person is always better. Paul indicates that he longed (verse 11) to see the church in Rome. He recognized that being physically present to instruct is always the ideal. Which leads to the second point.
- In person is not always available or practical. Paul was not able to be in Rome physically (verse 13). His obligations to spread the gospel (verse 14) took him to the far reaches of the ancient world. In other words, Paul could not be in two places at once.
- Distance learning is the “next best thing”. Since Paul could not be physically present with the church in Rome, under the authorship of the Holy Spirit, Paul pours his heart out in his letter. As a result, in God’s providence, Paul’s inability to visit Rome gave the world the inspired book of doctrine that is the Book of Romans.
Our Guiding Principles
These principles guide us in our development of online education. Geneva College has a thriving and rich campus life. As an alum myself, I want students from far and wide to come here to learn and grow in their faith. However, I also know that for some, the ability to come to campus is hampered by work, family obligations, and other factors that make accessibility to our Beaver Falls campus difficult.
I want Geneva to create the “next best thing”: a thriving online community of learners. We bring a Geneva education to the student in the community they live. It is my hope that much like the Book of Romans provides an example of the depth and rigor that an ancient letter was able to provide to a church to help it grow and prosper, our growing online adult degree programs and fully online graduate programs will be able to do the same.