Last week marked the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year. Of the classes meeting, 56% are fully online. We no longer can define the location of a community of learners in terms of building names and room numbers. Students are gathering in Zoom chats, in discussion boards, and on the ground in Findlay, Ohio and in other locations. (More about that next week!) Our definition of a community of learners has expanded beyond the narrow confines of geographic place.
At Pentecost, the disciples hear the words of Jesus, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV) I’ve often wondered how the disciples heard those words. Were they so focused on receiving power that they missed the second half of the sentence? And what did the ends of the earth mean to them: I suspect that their vision of community was limited to what they knew and could readily imagine. “Judea? I have relatives there. Samaria? We spent some time there with Jesus. It wasn’t too bad. The ends of the earth?” Static. Crickets.
For some of our students, the expanded definition of a community of learners will seem like Judea: “Online? I hang out on social media all the time.” For others, a little more like Samaria. “Zoom? I did FaceTime with my sister once. I guess class will be like that minus the kids running in and out.” But for others, it’s going to feel like the ends of the earth. You may be among those wondering why this is happening.
It’s simple. At Winebrenner, we are committed to equipping leaders for service in the Kingdom of God and we believe that this expanded community of learners will help us achieve this goal together.
You see distance learning, through Zoom video conferencing, using Canvas discussion boards, and other Canvas tools, allows Winebrenner to build a community of learners that is no longer limited by geography, scheduling, a lengthy commute or relocation to receive equipping for service.
As the community of learners expands, we engage in weekly conversation and learning with individuals who live and work in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. (Obviously, we all think that where we are is Jerusalem!) Our learning is diversified, and in turn, the application in our local context is enriched. Moreover, the quality of our learning is improved as we achieve better work/life balance, pace our coursework to our own schedules, and study within the support of our local church community.
As the community of learners expands, so does the reach of theological education. Most importantly, the Kingdom of God expands as we apply the new insights, new skills, and new ways of being that we develop in the shared community of learners. And perhaps we discover that the ends of the earth are no longer so far away.
Dr. Kathryn Helleman
Director of Institutional Assessment & Planning
Background image accessed via Adobe Spark and sourced to Pixabay.