An Orientation for Everyone!

In the lead-up to Princeton Theological Seminary’s first full academic year of online instruction, the Office of Digital Learning joins many in our community who are so excited to greet this year’s incoming class with an energetic: “WELCOME TO PTS!” To those returning to their studies – heading back to campus or preparing to learn from a distance, we say, “WELCOME BACK!”

In March, our office celebrated its 1-year anniversary by helping move our faculty and students speedily into the virtual classroom We spent the summer designing online courses with faculty, training the PhD candidates who will serve as instructors and TAs in digital pedagogy, and gathering the tools you’ll need to navigate this year online. We know that your experience at PTS this year will be different, but we’ve put in a lot of work and care to ensure that it will be no less valuable.

One of the first big changes is Orientation. This year, there are elements of Orientation for everyone!

BUT FIRST: HELLO BRIGHTSPACE, BYE BYE BLACKBOARD!
This Pre-Orientation Course is also an ideal way to introduce you to Brightspace, a Learning Management System (LMS) that offers tools, services, and support to enhance teaching and learning in higher education classrooms. It’s used by schools like Vanderbilt and Purdue, as well as seminaries like McCormick Theological Seminary and Virginia Theological Seminary. It is visually appealing and offers course spaces designed by educators to enhance teaching and learning.

Some of the Features to look forward to:
·         Calendar: There’s an amazing calendar feature that allows you to see what assignments are due when across all of your classes at once or based on each class.

·         Grading: Professors can mark up your papers on the platform and leave comments, so no more downloading word documents and searching through the comments feature. They can highlight in different colors, add notes, and much more. Rubrics are also available to post directly in course, so you can see exactly what you got points for. Instructors have the option to leave further comments in rubrics. Instructors can also leave video messages about the papers, so no more deciphering what comments they may have. The grading system provides a ton of different options for feedback, which all faculty are getting trained on.

·         Modules: We don’t know about you, but we love when things are organized. One of the great features about Brightspace is that it offers instructors the option to create modules. Within a module an instructor can embed a video, a reflection question, a quiz, reading material, and so much more. There can also be sub-modules for even more organization by topic or type of content. That means no more jumping between 15 browsers to find what you’re looking for in that week’s assignments.

·         Mobile App: Brightspace has an app that is accessible by phone or tablet, has the same lovely aesthetics and is compatible with both Apple and Android devices. It also has a responsive design, meaning that if you aren’t using the app, the website will reformat itself for tablets and phones to fit in the smaller screen.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN ORIENTATION
To access Orientation materials, go to https://brightspace.ptsem.edu/d2l/login and select “PTS Student, Staff, and Faculty Login.” Then, enter your PTS username [FIRSTNAME.LASTNAME] and password. You will see a landing page for Brightspace, where you can access your courses—including the Pre-Orientation Course!—your account information, and institution-wide announcements. These materials will be ready for new Masters students on 8/24, for new PhD students on 8/28, and for returning students on 8/30.

For help navigating Brightspace, you might want to watch this two-minute video. If you have additional questions related to a specific task in Brightspace, you can check out their YouTube playlist for learners here, or explore their Help site with step-by-step articles here. If neither of these answer your question, feel free to send an email to brightspace@ptsem.edu.

Read below for the Orientation resources and events for your group.

New Masters Students
New Masters Students will have a two-part Orientation. As you can see in the schedule that was sent out last week, the emphasis of any “live time” in Orientation is focused on worship, reflection and the intentional work of building community.  We’ve moved the majority of facts, FAQs and workflows to a Pre-Orientation “Course,” which you have access to starting on August 24.

You should be able to complete the required portions of the course in five hours or less, but you may find that you want to give more time to the many resources we’ve made available. More than anything, we hope you return to these resources, like a digital bookshelf where you can find answers to questions as they arise throughout the year. We’ve even assigned your Pre-Orientation Course a TA: Your Orientation Small Group Leader. They will be reaching out soon and will be available to help navigate any questions you may have during Pre-Orientation and “live” Orientation.

New PhD Students
For those of you joining us to begin your PhD program, your Orientation will be more specialized, curated for your particular needs and interests. Beginning August 28th, Pre-Orientation materials will be available for you on Brightspace, with some synchronous elements to follow (more information to come on these “live” components).

Returning Students
All returning students will also have asynchronous materials available on August 30th as an Orientation to Digital Learning. Here you will find information about where to find support in our new virtual environment and important tools for making the most out of your classes this year. You’ll also be introduced to some important initiatives for health/wellness and justice that are happening this year.

It is important to those of us on the Office of Digital Learning team that you know we see you as real people behind the screens, and our support will be set up to reflect that. We hope that you start this academic year with both enthusiasm and grace. We’ll need both to make sure meaningful learning happens this year.

Blessings on the start of this journey,

The ODL Team
Lindsey Trozzo, Kelsey Lambright, Thais Carter, Mary Kyner
Alisa Unell, Anna Stamborski, Alex Miller-Knaack, Shehan Rodrigo, Emily Zinsitz, Alyssa Evans, Charles Guth III, and Chelsea Williams