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Distance learning makes education more available


Supporters dedicate a new satellite campus of Africa University on March 31
at the offices of the Mozambique Annual Conference in Maputo.
UMNS file photos by John Gordon.

A UMNS Report
By Vicki Brown*
July 18, 2008

Online classes for local pastors in the United States, theology classes in Europe, and a master’s in business program in Mozambique are under way or will be by September.


 
The Rev. Mary Ann Moman

 

Partnerships formed by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry with other agencies, annual conferences, seminaries and Methodist educational institutions around the world are now bearing fruit, said the Rev. Mary Ann Moman, staff executive in the board’s Division of Ordained Ministry in Nashville.

“All these efforts mean more educational opportunities in Europe, Africa and even in the United States,” Moman said. “We are using technology to fulfill the mission of The United Methodist Church to prepare a new generation of Christian leaders for the church and the world, not just the church in the United States.”

Students registered July 12 for the first distance-learning classes offered by Africa University’s first satellite campus in Maputo, Mozambique. Classes for candidates to become licensed local pastors in the United States go online Aug. 1, a joint project of the board and United Methodist Communications. And 15 students are enrolled for the first semester of the Methodist e-Academy in Europe, which starts in September.

“Distance education is one piece of our efforts to increase access to Christian education around the world. We are taking classrooms to the places where people are desperately in need of education,” said the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top staff executive of the board. “All of these new programs—online Course of Study, the Methodist e-Academy, and the distance learning projects in Africa, Europe and the U.S.—required partnerships that reflect a new commitment of United Methodists to work together.

 
The Rev. Jerome
King Del Pino

 

“The project in Mozambique, for instance, highlights how the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development can pull together resources from many places to educate a new generation of Christian leaders,” Del Pino said.

“This developing capacity will provide educational opportunities across the global connection of The United Methodist Church in a way never before possible,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top staff executive of United Methodist Communications in Nashville. “What was only a dream a few years ago is taking concrete form. This is an exciting beginning, and more is yet to come.”

Classes in Europe

David N. Field, coordinator of the Methodist e-Academy, said as of early July, 15 students were enrolled from Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, France and Hungary.

“We are expecting more enrollments in the next month. The courses will be offered in English and German,” he said. The course material is being developed by a team from various European countries, plus one American.

Classes are being offered in Methodist history, doctrine, ethics, and ecclesiology. Theological education is available in Europe, but much of that is at state-run colleges and universities, so it does not include classes related to Methodist history, doctrine and polity, Moman said.

Field said the classes in Europe will make use of video lectures being produced by Wesley Theological Seminary. The U.S. seminary worked with representatives of the United Methodist Theological Schools in Europe to videotape lectures for the classes.

Field said there are no plans right now to develop videos in Europe, although the possibility of some form of video conferencing is being explored. Online discussions by means of a discussion board are an integral part of the program.

Field said the two major challenges have proved to be fundraising and publicity.

“At this stage we have raised substantial funds, but we still require more as most of our students come from Eastern European countries and do not have the resources to pay even relatively modest fees,” Field said. “We are presently looking at creative new ways to address this problem.”

Beaming from Africa University


Aidilio Alfeu uses one of the new computers at the Africa Training
and Learning Center.

 

In Africa, the Mozambique Distance Learning Project is housed in the offices of the Mozambique Annual Conference. The classroom has 20 new computers, with plans for future expansion. Classes from Africa University will be beamed to the Maputo site via VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal), a two-way satellite ground station with a dish antenna.

The project is a collaborative effort with the Methodist University of São Paulo, Brazil, and the Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Funding comes from the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development.

The first degree program being offered is an executive MBA in the faculty of management and administration. Seven applicants have been accepted to the program for the first classes. The program coordinator is Gabrielle Clemente, who was in Maputo on July 12 with a team from Africa University for student registration and orientation. Once the program is under way with this first class, Clemente will begin intensive student recruitment.

Stronger Course of Study

The classes are a huge undertaking that “moves beyond the classical theological education done in a school,” said the Rev. Robert Kohler, a staff executive at the board. “Classes will be far more widely available, and anybody anywhere in the world can sign up and take a class if they know the language.”

 
The Rev. Robert Kohler

 

Kohler said the online Course of Study offerings are eventually expected to replace the correspondence course that local pastors take now, and a distance-education component can be added to every class offered at a Course of Study school.

“Online courses and other distance-education opportunities will strengthen the entire Course of Study program by providing an educational environment that will significantly change the learning process,” he said.

With the correspondence course, the students complete all the work and mail it in, while the online classes will allow professors to give feedback as course work is completed, said Cheryl A. Hemmerle, a technical training specialist for United Methodist Communications. She said registration will still be handled by the Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Hemmerle said there are also future plans for online discussions groups among Course of Study students.

In 2007, 121 people applied for the five-year Basic Course of Study correspondence program. The classes can also be taken on campus at regional Course of Study schools at eight United Methodist seminaries or at 15 extension Course of Study schools.

For more information about the Course of Study, contact Lynn Daye at ldaye@gbhem.org or (615) 340-7416, or visit www.gbhem.org. To view the Course of Study online pages, visit moodle.courseofstudy.org.

*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Resources

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United Methodist Communications

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