Advancing Instructional Technology

Advancing Instructional Technology

By Chris Peters, MDiv ’14

Wisdom literature encourages the faithful community to seek clarity of vision (Proverbs 29:18).  Over the past few years, Columbia Theological Seminary’s institutional vision has been refined through a Quality Enhancement Plan and ongoing curriculum revision.  As the seminary seeks to be always reforming, a vision for the use of technology to enhance teaching has also come into focus.

In March 2012, Columbia dedicated the Broyles Leadership Center (BLC), creating new classroom environments with expanded and enhanced technological features. Since that time, professors have been actively utilizing the new infrastructure. Expanding the use of instructional technology to support learning goals is happening in various ways at Columbia Seminary – from basic and advanced degree programs to Lifelong Learning. Israel Galindo, Associate Dean of Lifelong Learning, states that this emerging focus is, “about finding the best means to bring about the best learning outcomes.”

Associate Professor of Christian Education Kathy Dawson adds that keeping learning as the focus is paramount. Alongside an emphasis on pedagogy, the use of technological enhancements “is a good way to speak to…the students that we have here, who are living in the digital age and are expecting the seminary to be there with them.” To help faculty members better accompany students in this digital age, Columbia has been working to provide resources for the responsible adoption of technology in the classroom.

Kathy Dawson identifies “course capture,” which records video of class sessions along with the PowerPoint presentation, as one of the big improvements. She says, “The course capture that we have built into the BLC is really valuable both to our international students and to folks who have learning differences, who may need to hear a lecture multiple times to be grasped.” Though, many students are known to take advantage of the technology for review purposes.

Last fall, Brennan Breed, Assistant Professor of Old Testament, led a group of pastors from the Presbytery of St. Andrew in a Lifelong Learning sermon-design workshop. Brennan was able to lead the group in Mississippi remotely from his office in Decatur, GA, using Adobe Connect, a multi-platform online learning tool. In the past faculty would likely travel to lead such a workshop, taking away time from classes on campus. While Brennan took a “break” from the workshop to teach Intro to Old Testament on campus, the pastors prepared sermon outlines and uploaded them to Adobe Connect for Brennan’s review. Later that day, Brennan provided feedback for the group. Speaking to the success of the highly collaborative event, Brennan said, “It was a better sermon series than any of us could have made individually.”

This spring, Professor of Christian Ethics Mark Douglas and Assistant Professor of New Testament Raj Nadella initiated a course, Profits and Prophets: The Bible, Ethics, and Economics, utilizing the technological infrastructure of the Broyles Leadership Center. They took advantage of the large screens and projectors, varied internet connections, and touch-screen hub for teaching to connect students on-and-off-campus in conversation. This was achieved by using Google Hangout, a video-conferencing technology, to allow students to attend class remotely from the comfort of their own homes.

Professors Douglas and Nadella also used technology for connections beyond the seminary community. “One of our goals (is) to be able bring in resource people from other parts of the United States into the classroom,” Raj Nadella said shortly before a session with an expert who spoke to the class from Michigan.

Considering hopes for future use of such technology, Mark Douglas adds, “Instructional technologies can enhance pedagogy, but they need to do it in ways that are attentive to the community-forming aspects of the pedagogy… In the small class setting, one thing technology ought to be doing is increasing the ways that we communicate with each other rather than having just one-way limited interaction.”

Online seminars and courses with web-enhanced learning create spaces for what Israel Galindo identifies as, “learner-directed, collaborative, interactive, and multifaceted learning.” In October 2014, the Center for Lifelong Learning will implement its first online-only course for active pastors as distance learners titled, Money and Your Ministry.

While Columbia Seminary seeks new practical applications for Instructional Technology, it also seeks to train and equip its faculty and staff for the best possible usage and integration. Reflecting on the use of technology in Profits and Prophets, Raj Nadella adds, “if we practice it more often, it will become more of the norm.”

This article originally appeared in the spring issue of Vantage magazine which is available online! To see the full version of “Spiritual Pioneers,” please visit our website at:

Chris Peters is a 2014 graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary’s MDiv program and is currently seeking a call in the PC(USA). Chris has worked as Youth Director at Morningside Presbyterian Church since September 2011 and spent nearly six years as Youth and Young Adult Director at Forest Lake Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC. He holds a BA in Religious Studies from the University of South Carolina (’04). He lives in Decatur, GA and is getting married this month to fellow 2014 MDiv graduate Lauren Van Wicklen.

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