The Apostle Paul, Online Educator - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Adult Students Higher Education
February 25, 2016

The Apostle Paul, Online Educator

While online education has woven itself into the fabric of higher education, 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. To many small traditional residential schools, it is this interpersonal, small group dynamic that creates a uniqueness to the higher education experience that cannot be replicated, and the perception can be by some this is lost when the school goes online. Christian colleges often maintain that one of its core values is Biblical integration and to online neophytes, this can also appear lost when the school decides to go online.

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 and is the source with which 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, but 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. The early church leaders were often unable to be physically present to help educate the early church (at times they were even imprisoned), so they wrote letters (which became canonized into our New Testament).

There is no greater example of this than the Apostle Paul. For example, 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. What follows (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:

  1. In person is always better. Paul indicates that he longed (verse 11) to see the church in Rome. A recognition that being physically present to instruct is always the ideal and which leads to the second point.
  2. In person is not always available or practical. Paul was prevented (verse 13) from physically being in Rome. Because of his obligations to spread the gospel (verse 14), it took him to the far reaches of the ancient world and meant that Paul could not be in two places at once.
  3. Distance learning can be the “next best thing.” Because 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. And in God’s providence, Paul’s inability to visit Rome, gave the world the inspired book of doctrine that is the Book of Romans.

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. As such, I want Geneva to create the “next best thing”: a thriving online community of learners whereby we bring a Geneva education to the student in the community they live. And it 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.

However, unlike a “letter,” Geneva College online programs are not static and passive in their delivery and reception.  Our online programs aren’t just a place for information to be transferred, but they are a context for students to be instructed, challenged, encouraged and, in fact, educated by skilled and godly instructors.  And they are places to learn, connect and grow with other students in a meaningful way.

The “next best thing” can actually be an incredibly good thing. 

John Gallo, MS, MBA, Dean of Graduate, Adult, and Online Education

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