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Graduate Theology Classes Connect Campus and Online Students in Real Time

graduate theology students doing real-time distance learning

Starting this semester, Georgian Court University’s theology master’s-degree program will offer classes in the new real-time distance format, which connects GCU graduate theology faculty and students on the Lakewood campus with students in their homes or other settings around the world.

That’s good news as far as those who have completed GCU’s graduate theology program are concerned. Nanci Bachman, who put her GCU Master of Arts in Theology degree to work as director of Lifelong Faith Formation in St. David the King Parish, Princeton, New Jersey, is enthusiastic about what the approach will mean for new generations of theology students.

While most of her own coursework was done in the classroom, Ms. Bachman said she had enough online experience at GCU to realize that the real-time distance approach offers a “great way to learn.”

Going real-time “fits into today’s lifestyle, where you can study and interact with other students and the professor,” she said.

The new initiative is the result of a successful pilot program that began a couple of years ago in which graduate theology students attending remotely could share a virtual classroom experience with a Georgian Court professor and students on the campus by way of a Skype-like delivery system, said Dr. Johann Vento, GCU professor of religious studies/theology and chair of the Department of Religious Studies, Theology, and Philosophy.

Dr. Vento said that the format offers a lively dimension that differs from typical online classes where the work is done alone.

“In an online class, you will have a threaded discussion, but not in real time,” she said. “This is fairly unique among master’s-degree programs. When the class meets, those participating via remote will need to be at their dining room tables” with their laptops simultaneously with the students on campus for two and a half hours.

“In this format, the students and professor can see and interact with each other,” she said. While some of the graduate theology classes will remain fully online, Dr. Vento said the aim is to “offer more and more classes in this kind of real-time format.”

The format appealed to Carol Schulz, who earned a B.A. in Religious Studies and an M.A. in Theology from GCU and went on to earn a Th.D in Theology from La Salle University. She recently retired as a pastoral associate after a long and fruitful career in parish ministry in St. Joseph Parish, Millstone, New Jersey.

She sees the real-time approach as a way to open the door to graduate theology students who want to engage with others but can’t make it to campus.

“It’s something I would have taken advantage of,” said Dr. Schulz. “Attending online is a good alternative, but if you can attend class in real time, sign on and get face-time with people who are sitting in class while you are sitting in your home, then you are actually participating with them, even if you are attending remotely.”

Story contributed by Lois Rogers.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,400 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 14 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2019, GCU was named a Best College for Your Money by Money Magazine and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. GCU rose more than 30 points in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report rankings due, in part, to high student retention and graduation rates, which also made GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at Hazlet, GCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.

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