Written by Eric Oldenburg
After finishing language school in the spring of 2006, Josie and I made a 5-month trip to the US to give birth to Dietrich. It was now December, we were back in Ukraine and I was excited but quite nervous to be teaching my first class at Kyiv Theological Seminary beginning in January. I spent the bulk of my prep time in the US and in Ukraine reading, writing course outlines and compiling a reader to be photocopied for each student. I even had my favorite specialty paper cut to A4 size in the US and shipped to Ukraine so that it would look cooler than any other reader they’d seen. I hunted down the best white board markers I could find, anticipating the diagrams and logical syllogisms I’d be scribbling in an attempt to equip these brothers and sisters in how to defend the faith. My 15 apologetics students were in their fourth and final year of seminary study and I wanted to teach with excellence for them. That semester we met Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:00 AM-10:00 AM for 15 weeks in classroom A25. It was a tiring but wonderful semester and I can still remember vividly some of the highs and lows of that teaching experience.
Fast forward to early 2016.
I’d now taught apologetics half a dozen times throughout Ukraine, been the speaker at a number of apologetics conferences and been the teaching assistant for the Talbot MA apologetics courses taught at our Kyiv Extension at the seminary. Some of the jitters of being a newbie had subsided, I still did lots of reading for course prep, but there was a massive change. I would not be seeing these students face-to-face. I needed no white boards or markers because there would be no classroom. I wouldn’t grade papers and exams with a red pen and hand them back the next class period. This final apologetics course, taught the semester before we moved back from Ukraine the US, again with 15 students, would be delivered completely online. Instead of standing in front of these students and lecturing, I digitally recorded myself sitting in my office and then handed the material over to the seminary tech guru to turn it into a YouTube video. I would then think up a question that each student had to answer in a public online forum. That cool paper reader was replaced by dozens of PDF files uploaded for the relevant week. I usually recorded my material in the morning. The students watch the videos whenever suited their schedule the best. Almost 10 years had passed and my teaching experience was altered radically.
Let’s start with the downside of this technological change. At the end of my 15-week traditional classroom course, I knew the 15 students quite well. I didn’t just see them in the classroom, I was able to eat lunch with them, go to chapel with them, bump into them in the seminary hallways and discuss the Bible in small groups with them. That kind of close, everyday, variegated life experience is lost in an online format.
But that major downside is met with a number of upsides. With online forums requiring each student to answer, I got to read the thoughts and reflections of each student, rather than hearing only from those bold enough to speak up in the traditional classroom. In some ways, the online experience develops relationships more deeply than the traditional classroom. Another plus of the online version of the class is that I could teach students from any academic year. Because I was not only teaching 40-hours over a one or two week period during the semester when only one group was in town, my course was equally available to any with the time in their schedule to take it.
Which approach was more effective? Wrong question! Each educational approach has its strengths and weaknesses.
Which approach do I prefer? Who cares?!?! My goal is to passionately equip whomever God gives me as a student and I want to do that in whichever way He makes available.
Were students trained to defend the unchanging truth of the Gospel in both the traditional and virtual classrooms? Yes, and I praise God for the opportunity and privilege to serve in Ukraine for 12 years as a missionary of Granada Heights Friends Church.