The pandemic this year has turned the master of theological study (MTS) program’s teaching model on its head. Conrad Grebel University College professors have adapted and, in some cases, entirely reconstructed their MTS courses for the ease of learning and connecting virtually, meaning that graduate students who were used to learning together in small classes about the intricacies of the Bible, Christian theology, church history and practising ministry, have also had to adapt.
And because of the online platform, MTS courses are reaching more students in many locations. From Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., to Winnipeg, Man., students are excited to learn and engage with each other in online discussions.
Carol Penner, assistant professor of theological studies, says of this interaction, “We are having really good discussions, and the students are engaging with each other in this new format.”
Andrew Brown enrolled due to the pandemic. He is in the master of arts in theological studies program at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, but, over the summer he started looking at other universities, since most of them had moved their courses online. He says he “saw this as an opportunity to study anywhere as a visiting student. . . . Grebel’s course, ‘The Reformation,’ taught by . . . David Neufeld piqued my interest. I had heard a lot of good things about him . . . .”
Rebecca Booker likes the freedom her biblical law class gives her. Because it’s asynchronous, there aren’t set class times, which, she says, allows her to “chip away at course work over the week. I enjoy being able to rewind lectures, and I often review material while I'm cleaning up the house.”
She says she was surprised “by the depth of my engagement in the course material. I think we're reading more thoroughly, and putting far more thought into our comments and responses. In many ways, this format has increased my ability to focus on the material.”
The flexibility of online courses also enabled Chris Hutton, the youth and young adult pastor at Niagara United Mennonite Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, to take a Grebel course this term. “Knowing that I wouldn’t have to drive as much to access the course materials and content opened an even greater opportunity to continue my education and professionalization,” he says, adding, “I’ve been most surprised this term by the amount of work put in by Conrad Grebel faculty and staff. They have put a lot of thought into how to communicate during this season and they have done excellent work at foreseeing how to handle the needs of students studying online.”
Online classes have changed the way the MTS program operates. With the rise in enrolment and interest in the program, there may be lasting online opportunities, according to program director Jeremy Bergen. “We will explore how online offerings might be integrated into the mix in the future,” he says. “But whatever form our classes take, learning together with a relatively small cohort of students, in which community is fostered, will be central to what we do.”