by Jo Kadlecek
Sharon Galgay Ketcham initially had her doubts about going online for Gordon’s new Core theology course. But she’s always regarded innovation as engaging an active imagination for better educational outcomes, so when the Core Committee in 2009 charged the Biblical Studies and Christian Ministries Department with crafting the new class, she and her colleagues took a fresh approach.
“We wanted to teach theology in a way that shaped how we lived,” she said. “I knew that we could not simply bat around abstract ideas. Instead we had to look more closely at the link between belief and living, to create a lived theology for our students.”
As the course supervisor, Ketcham asked teacher and students alike to do something they’d not seen before: to look anew at the study and discipline of theology and remain open to its academic and personal implications. Through the framework of theological reflections, her goal with each topic was to discern God’s activity in matters of faith and life—and then participate.
“Theology asks big, probing questions—questions not always easy to consider in a classroom with other people staring at you, waiting for your answer,” Ketcham said. “But theological reflection requires engagement, and so we decided to offer it during May Term online, in a ‘safe space,’ using Facebook as a virtual classroom.”
The results delighted her: more students engaged more thoughtfully, tackled hard questions more honestly in their class journals, and took their faith and the material to a deeper level. The results came in part, she said, because students and professors had to comment online, and as they typed, they had more time to form their thoughts and consider what they were saying and thinking.
The experiment was so successful that now Ketcham is asking, “How can we use Facebook as a tool to help stimulate better face-to-face conversations? How can these virtual discussions move our students toward the outcomes we hope for, for this class and throughout their lives?”
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