Piloting the Digital World for Theological Education

May 31, 2018

Theological higher education is in a sea of change. Among other aspects, this change includes a move towards bi-vocation, distance learning, and public theology. In my administrative role as Director of Contextual Education, an increasing number of students share they need their degree to help them pivot from one career to another and that they need the internship experience to help them make this shift. I also hear the growing concerns of negotiating work-life-student responsibilities amidst swelling population, traffic, and a number of hats to wear. Is there a way to educate students that is true to formation while also with consideration of different needs in our contemporary times? Finally, I also hear denominational partners requesting that their future candidates for ordination develop a healthy public voice and theology because our churches need to connect with the world on pressing and important current issues.

ePortfolio screenshotEnter ePortfolios. In this context of change, I have introduced ePortfolios to one of my classes as a way to begin to address these three concerns. What are they? Think of an ePortfolio as an electronic dossier – a digital way of holding and showcasing one’s “stuff” to others. Like a physical portfolio or file, a student makes readily available different writings, assignments, resume, and statements not in a bulky attaché or briefcase but in the digital world. Currently, our piloting of ePortfolios aims at several outcomes. First, we demonstrate how we achieve our program outcomes. We provide students a shell for a WordPress site and ask them to blog on various topics that the class generates. Mental health and spirituality, music and justice work, internet civility, a theology of sex work and human trafficking, are some of the issues discussed in the class and written upon in student blogs.

"The practice we established in class of using prompts to help refine our own sense of theological groundedness was invaluable. Even sketching an outline or a few sentences on the way to a deeper theological reflection aimed at understanding what is most meaningful and relevant in the creative tension between tradition and culture has been surprisingly helpful and insightful. So, as far as the experiment goes, you are on to something...

While I haven't yet fully explored how I might use the site professionally, the "public exercise of my ministerial voice" has helped to better integrate and articulate how my own ministry can help heal our broken world." 

— Mathew Volta

 

By doing this, we help to shape students’ theological commitments and their public voice of those commitments, a second intended outcome of ePortfolios. They put these commitments to digital “paper” offering room for reflection and action between faith and issues pertinent to our contemporary world. Students are thinking deeply about issues and becoming more intentional writers and leaders as they put down in blog form what the rest of the world can see. It is the Church and people of faith actuated in a public space. Moreover, as an electronic dossier, ePortfolios assist students in putting together a file for future employers highlighting what they believe and know, what they have done or could do, and some of the skills and capacities they hold. Lastly, using a digital platform has helped us deliver the course in hybrid format (50% online 50% face to face). Though I know the drawbacks of decreasing the face-to-face component of teaching and have yet to meet an educator who says they got into the field of education in order to teach online, hybrid delivery provides students with another option to negotiate their work-life-student responsibilities. This for me is a theological commitment on my part to educate holistically.

This whole endeavor is an experiment for me and our school and one that asks how we might contextually consider our students, our institutions, our faith traditions, and our environments in a rapidly changing landscape.

Written by Dr. Mark Chung Hearn, PhD