Are professors increasingly becoming avatars in virtual classrooms housed in cyber communities?
That and other questions in distance learning were discussed on Oct. 23 and 24 at Fordham as part of a conference sponsored by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities for deans of adult and continuing education.
In attendance were representatives from 20 of the nation’s 28 Jesuit colleges, as well as spokespeople from Jesuit Distance Education Network (JesuitNET), a Web-based clearinghouse for some 500 online courses.
“Jesuit education has a centuries-old tradition of attending to the whole person—intellectually, ethically and spiritually,” said David Robinson, S.J., of the Nestucca Sanctuary Jesuit Community. “Such values are not left as a sidebar when the learning venue moves to cyberspace.”
Rev. Anthony Ciorra, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham, said that as rollouts in online courses climb among Jesuit universities, it’s important to focus on embedding quality Ignatian pedagogy in those courses.
“Distance learning is neither good nor bad, and you are not going to get all faculty on board,” said Father Ciorra, who helped teach the first wave of Fordham’s online courses last spring. “But at the end of the day, you have to look at the customer.”
Calling his personal experience teaching online “transformational,” Father Ciorra noted some distinctly Ignatian characteristics of the distance-learning model developed by JesuitNET.
They include: cura personalis, the Jesuit notion of care for the whole person, which is tantamount to online learning; the desire to not only gain knowledge, but to address how that knowledge will be used; and creative thinking, deep thought and reflection on the material that is presented.
“Part of the transformation to online courses was realizing it is not the quantity of information, but it is teaching students how to think creatively, how to connect the dots,” Father Ciorra said. “And it is not just [becoming]a Stepford wife. Your personality as a teacher comes into the course.”
The event was hosted by Fordham College of Liberal Studies and took place at Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campus venues.