Theological studies and modes of learning
The following article was written by a student who has taken advantage of the flexibility of study offered by the Highland Theological College’s BA Theological Studies degree programme. He compares the on-campus and off-campus benefits and writes:
In September ’07 I was matriculated at HTC on the BA Theological Studies degree course as a full-time, on-campus student. After completing the first year of studies I changed mode of study to off-campus Open Learning as a result of a change in circumstances. I have now returned to on-campus studies for the second semester of the second year and offer this comparison of my experiences of learning in both modes.
There is a certain corporate fervour that accompanies the commencement of studies at the start of the yearly session that lends to the dwindling warmth of autumn days a sense of excitement, promise and purpose that belongs properly to spring. It is a privilege and a great opportunity to share in, and in some small way to contribute to, this annual tide that rolls out and, to some large measure, continues unfurling through the succeeding weeks and months. The invisible and immeasurable quality of this ‘corporate fervour’ is in some way alluded to in the college’s banner, ‘A Community of Faith and Scholarship.’ It can be empirically verified in numerous seemingly insignificant gestures of friendship, kindness and encouragement, operating across and between all levels and ranks of staff and students. Its pinnacle of formal expression may be seen in the corporate sharing of faith and Word in daily meeting for morning worship and in the moments of prayer before lectures. But the ‘community of faith’ is, in its most enduring sense, something lived out in the day-to-day contact with one another through the trials, as much as through the successes, of student life, in continually rubbing shoulders with one another, through a shared common goal and a common hope in life.
Practically speaking, all the means of scholarship are at hand on campus. Lectures are delivered with clockwork regularity, thus maintaining the even pace of exposure to material in each module. Lectures are also the primary mode of contact between the teaching staff and individual students and groups of students, requiring clarification about the taught material, details concerning essay requirements, advice on exam preparation, or recommended additional reading. Seminars also are a significant means of study for on-campus students, requiring and developing verbal presentation skills, and deepening thought through supervised discussion of the seminar material presented. The library is a further central means of scholarship; it supplies the student both in terms of material provision, and in view of the librarian’s direction and advice in navigating and obtaining the appropriate resources for the subject studied. Finally, the common room, though principally a place of rest and refreshment, provides the forum for many conversations which stimulate and challenge, and where ‘as iron sharpens iron’, friendships are enjoyed and forged.
Open Learning Studies
It would only be fair to say that the adoption of the Open Learning (OL) mode of learning was not my primary intention for the first semester of the second year, but rather, a welcome alternative to the possibility of abandoning study for a period owing to a temporary disablement. It is also true to say that I was not linked in to the televisual interaction with live lectures and seminars on-campus (which can be accessed by students who reside anywhere within the vast UHI network area). Rather, the OL mode available to me was delivered through the printed course material sent by post, or accessed via the internet through UHI’s ‘Virtual Learning Environment’ (VLE) facility called ‘Blackboard’. In this environment lecture notes are posted and other programme material is contained.
Of particular interest, some tutors use this facility to draw all of the OL students together into interactive discussions, in a format similar to other online forums. In this way, individual contact between the tutor and the staff is both initiated and maintained, and submissions for seminar topics can be posted and read by one another, as well as the comments on each made by the tutor. Where this facility is used, the effect can be very rewarding, both in terms of an encouragement to study and also in nurturing the experience of being part of the ‘community of faith and scholarship’. I personally found it stimulating and a valued bridge of communication between the otherwise disparate body of OL students and the life of the class being taught by the tutor on-campus. Those modules where this facility was not used, and where telephone or email contact was infrequent produced, for me, a sense of disconnectedness which contrasted markedly with the learning experience of being on-campus. In relation to this aspect of communication, I found the blogs of fellow students (those on-campus or in the televisual link) worth reading, and greatly valued email contact and telephone conversations with students with whom relationships had been forged during the previous two semesters. In these my studies were encouraged and my desire for understanding developed.
The library provides excellent support for OL students, both in posting out materials at short notice as the need arises and in providing photocopies of selected material at the beginning of the course. In addition, loans of some textbooks for the duration of the module were kindly provided, and others books occasionally posted out wherever possible.
In comparison with the on-campus mode of study, the student in the OL mode shares in some of the same enthusiasm for study, at the beginning and throughout the course of the year, as do the on-campus students. But this ‘corporate fervour’ is diluted in proportion to the quality of contact between the staff and the individual student – and likewise invigorated in corresponding measure as this contact is developed. In respect of learning languages the path of study is a lonelier and harder one done solo, and the richer for the sharing of the burdens and the successes with one another. However, it must be remembered that, in some definite sense, all scholarship is done in a solo way. All the more important and valuable then, is the practical support and frame that the college delivers to assist the student’s study, and the encouragement that both the staff and the students give to one another as part of the body, whether on-campus or in OL mode.
‘The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.’ 1Cor12.12
Highland Theological College provides teaching and training for men and women who wish to study the Christian faith from an Evangelical and Reformed perspective within the context of a worshipping community. HTC also seeks to serve the churches and wider Christian community through providing training and advice, as required, both for leaders and congregations.
HTC is a non-denominational college and has staff and students from a wide range of denominations and Christian traditions, including Presbyterian, Anglican and Baptist. We are delighted to see student numbers gradually increase year by year. In an age when there are so many things fighting to grab our attention it is heartening to welcome to the College men and women who have a desire to know God more deeply. As numbers increase, and as we continue to develop the courses we offer, HTC is gradually going from strength to strength. Undoubtedly this is through God’s great blessing and provision.
One of the many appealing factors of HTC is the flexible modes of study it can offer. Most of the courses are available by full-time, part-time and open learning modes. It is even possible to combine these modes during one’s time as a student, making learning through HTC even more convenient. Many students have been able to pursue their studies through HTC because of this great level of flexibility. Had full-time on-campus study been necessary they may not have been able to adjust their circumstances to take up and enjoy the blessing of theological education and training.