Winebrenner Theological Seminary offered its first online course in the early 2000’s (interestingly, in the summer of 2004, I taught a hybrid online/in person course at Winebrenner which was the second online course offering).
In the summer of 2018, Winebrenner received permission to offer the Master of Arts of Practical Theology (MAPT) fully online. As part of the process of developing this program for online delivery, we spent considerable time discussing why we were moving in this direction. When I was enrolled in seminary most students relocated to the region of the school – these included men, women, those married with kids, young couples, and single adults. While that still happens, it is no longer the norm.
Online courses provide an opportunity to integrate education into the rhythms of everyday life and ministry. I recall talking to several pastors who are in our city. Both tried taking courses at Winebrenner but found that an on-campus course was too restrictive when attempting to balance a full-time ministry position and family obligations. They completed seminary; but it was through a school on the far east coast that offered a program fully online. Online education isn’t about some random student in a distant state. Using the available technology allows us to deliver education that fits within the rhythm of life and ministry.
With the advent of COVID-19 we were forced into a situation in which we could not have offered courses in-person. One of the items that is most satisfying to me about Winebrenner’s response to this current moment is that our mission was never disrupted as we navigated through this season.
I met with a variety of students through Zoom last week to check-in at the halfway point of our summer trimester. Overall, the feedback was very positive about our courses. Some of our faculty are teaching online for the first time at Winebrenner. But, since we have a culture that understands why we offer online courses on a regular basis, this shift is an extension of our culture and not a major detour from how we regularly go about our teaching.
While many schools have been teaching online longer than Winebrenner, our ability to move our courses online was another way we were unknowingly preparing for the challenges of this time.
– Dr. Brent Sleasman, President
– Image by Maya Maceka, accessed via Unsplash and Adobe Spark