EDITOR’S NOTE: When out mingling with Grace Brethren churches and people, we’re often asked about current progress at Grace Theological Seminary, which for many years was the primary institution for graduating Grace Brethren pastors. This excellent article by Grace faculty member Mark Soto (pictured) is in the current Grace Alumni Magazine, which is being mailed this week. It is reproduced here courtesy of the editor, Judy Daniels.
Dr. Mark H. Soto is professor of Biblical Studies at Grace Seminary. He is a graduate of Appalachian Bible College (BA, ThB), Liberty University (MAR), and Grace Theological Seminary (MDiv 93, ThM 93, DMin 97). Dr. Soto served in the pastorate, in community/social agencies, and in the U.S. Army prior to coming to Grace in 1993. In addition to teaching, he has served as dean of men, and assumed his current position in 1998.
SEMINARY PURSUES DISTANCE EDUCATION INITIATIVES
By Dr. Mark H. Soto
Grace Seminary has over the last three years embarked on a series of distance education initiatives designed to better the quality of existing educational offerings as well as open the door to new possibilities. These initiatives are the vision of our Dean of the Seminary, Dr. Jeff Gill.
The first step toward fulfilling this dream involves upgrading our current distance education courses which are offered presently via tape and video and converting them to DVD and CD-Rom. These courses will undergo continued transformation as we design courses to more appropriately meet the challenges of learners who are engaged in work, home, life, and ministry.
In addition to upgrading existing courses offered by present seminary faculty, we still continue a very healthy relationship with the Institute of Theological Studies tape courses offered to supplement the curriculum here at Grace for those students who are not located close enough to take courses on campus and who need courses presently not available by any other means. Grace Seminary is one of the founding members of the ITS program and continues to be involved in the production and distribution of this very flexible method of engaging ministry curriculum here at Grace.
Grace has for some time now been concerned to meet the challenges of those interested in theological education not located in Winona Lake, Indiana, and we have opened the doors to new initiatives in Columbus, Ohio, and in Fort Wayne, Indiana. These two locations are presently engaged in offering our Master in Ministry degree and we have just recently received approval from the Ohio Board of Regents to grant degrees in Ohio related to that initiative.
Columbus provides a sound demographic base to meet the needs of learners interested in ministry training who cannot leave present employment to take classes in Winona Lake.
Current seminary faculty members teach many of the courses offered, and we are privileged to have Dr. Ed DeZago join us as an adjunct professor. He is currently serving on the Columbus Grace Brethren Church pastoral staff.
The most exciting initiative is still in the planning stages. I have been asked to help us begin an initiative that will bring Grace Seminary online and offer fully accredited seminary degrees through the Internet. I am presently pursuing a Ph.D. in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University in preparation for that task.
It is my desire, along with the desire of the seminary, to begin to bring this dream to reality as soon as I am finished with this degree. Current plans are for me to graduate in 2007, and we would like to be up and running online in the 2008-2009 school year.
This will bring the best approaches of online instruction and adult education to the theological stage and allow students to obtain fully accredited seminary degrees through the Internet. There is much to be done before we can begin to advertise and open our cyberspace doors, but we are confident that all present concerns will be answered and we will be able to offer courses soon.
This initiative allows Grace Seminary to become one of the innovators in online theological education and gives us an opportunity to meet the challenges of the future and serve a greater number of our constituents. Current estimates are that online education will comprise over 38 percent of all courses offered by colleges and universities in the next three years.
We have seen a great deal of interest within the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, Grace Brethren International Missions, and even those outside the Fellowship in finding ways to partner with this initiative by encouraging present staff and missionaries to take advantage of this new technological approach to seminary education.
Grace is delighted to be on the threshold of this new possibility and we are working hard to make sure that we are able to offer quality degree programs that will have the approval not only of the North Central Association, but also the Association of Theological Schools. This is a bold initiative, and we seek your prayers as we continue to plan and prepare for this very important next step.