The mission of Gateway Seminary’s online campus is not very different from that of other seminaries with online offerings: “Gateway Online exists to shape leaders who expand God’s kingdom around the world by making theological education available to students anywhere in the world.” However, the seminary has instituted a particularly thoroughgoing approach to faculty buy-in and training for online education.
In the mid-1990s, Gateway (then named Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary), like a few other institutions, first dipped its toes into online waters. In 2001, Golden Gate was among the early schools granted permission by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) to offer online versions of some courses required for accredited degrees. But it was not until 2006 that the school began ramping up its online course offerings, says Kristen Ferguson, Gateway’s director of online education. The seminary contracted with Learning House to make better use of the Moodle course learning management system (LMS) they were using and to improve the design of its courses.
In 2013, when ATS first permitted schools to offer a fully online M.Div., Golden Gate was one of six schools given exemption from residency requirements for M.Div. and professional M.A. degrees. (The others were Anderson University School of Theology, Chicago Theological Seminary, Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.) In a press release at the time, Mike Martin, vice president of academic affairs at Golden Gate, wrote: “We have extensive experience doing effective ministry training using the tool of online education. Our first online class was offered in 1998, and our commitment is always to provide a high-quality education with the maximum student-to-professor and peer-to-peer interaction.”
Although Golden Gate encouraged full-time faculty to teach online classes, seminary leaders recognized that not all faculty members were comfortable with this method of teaching and at first did not make online teaching a requirement for faculty. But since 2014, all full-time professors have been required to teach online as part of their contracts. Today, 70 to 80 percent of all courses, including those offered on campus, have an online component. The M.Div., M.T.S., M.A. in intercultural studies, and M.A. in educational leadership can all be taken completely online. The M.A. in Christian counseling and the M.A. in missiology have both been approved by ATS and will be fully online starting this fall.
In 2016, Golden Gate relocated its main campus from northern to southern California and changed its name to Gateway. The plan from the outset was to make the new campus a commuter campus, with a corporate feel and the technology for all kinds of remote and online access. Ferguson says that having a traditional class schedule — Monday through Friday and during daytime hours — does not fit into the seminary’s goals for the new campus or the demographic it serves. To accommodate working adults with full-time jobs, many courses are offered just once a week, either on Saturday or on a weeknight. “We have worked really hard to make a flexible schedule with a lot of hybrid courses,” she adds.
The seminary eventually switched from the Moodle LMS to Canvas. Ferguson reports that Canvas allows administrators to control the course content and offers faculty more ownership of their content. All Gateway faculty members, even those not currently teaching online classes, enroll in Canvas’s “faculty center” where there is extensive support, training and best practices for every possible component of the program — from the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, and delivery of its courses, to how to use tools like Turnitin and Zoom. Although Ferguson says that while switching from Moodle to Canvas was a big transition for the seminary, there have been few technical problems.
At Gateway, online teaching is now a regular part of the faculty load, not an additional overload. Faculty are paid above and beyond their regular salary to develop online courses, although they do not get course release time. Developing courses is part of a faculty member’s tenure evaluation portfolio and is considered a positive.
In 2017, Gateway was awarded an ATS innovation grant for a proposal titled “A Faculty-Centered Model of Instructional Design for an Age of Blended Delivery Systems.” The grant provided the seminary with hardware, software, and training for faculty to improve the consistency and quality of online, hybrid, and remote-access classes.
The grant-funded activities included opening the Gateway video studio to all faculty and providing them with video editing software. Furthermore, a team of faculty and staff researched online pedagogy and created a best practices document on blended learning for all faculty to follow, which is excerpted below. Also, 10 faculty members pursued an Online Consortium Learning Certificate and led a webinar on best practices for their fellow faculty, which resulted in revisions to the best practices document.
Today, all required classes — online, hybrid, extension campus, or in-person — follow a faculty-designed template for basic components like course descriptions, objectives, and signature assignments, but the classes can be modified to best suit different delivery formats.
Gateway Seminary provides clear instructions and expectations for faculty who teach in a blended learning environment.To enhance student learning, the seminary distributes a document called “Best Practices for Blended Learning” to all faculty.
At Gateway Seminary, blended learning includes remote access and hybrid courses. The practices below reflect faculty collaboration and research in an effort to maintain a high standard of instruction in online education and traditional face-to-face education.
Chris Chun recording a fully online course on the theology and legacy of Jonathan Edwards. Chun is chair of history and theological studies at Gateway and director of the seminary’s Jonathan Edwards Center.
Courtesy Gateway Seminary
Online Community and Spiritual Formation
Tyler Sander, director of communications at Gateway Seminary, preparing the seminary’s video studio for the next class.
Excerpted and used with permission. The full document, “Best Practices for Blended Learning,” is available online at bit.ly/Gateway-Blended.
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