Looking Back and Looking Forward
This past school year has held unprecedented challenges for our PTS community. We shifted to an online curriculum and our way of life was radically changed in response to the global public health crisis. As we reflect back on this year, we recognize moments of remarkable resilience that give us unprecedented hope in the promise of PTS as we move into the future. Below is part of an infographic report from the Office of Digital Learning that we had put together to reflect on all of the different ways our seminary community has come together to respond to this year’s challenges. While this report was put together at the end of the fall semester, the spring was much the same in the ways in which we as a community worked together to respond to our circumstances and create community despite physical distance.
The entire report is available here.
Transforming Teaching and Learning
A number of faculty had integrated technology into their courses before COVID-19 forced us to move entirely online. In the fall semester of 2019, the Office of Digital Learning partnered with various faculty members, including Heath Carter, Nancy Duff, and Erin Raffety, to support them in utilizing technology and creating digital assignments for their classes. Faculty and students reported that working with the Office of Digital Learning and the Digital Learning Lab was a positive experience that contributed to their teaching and learning. As for student learning, faculty that received ODL support felt that digital assignments achieved the level of rigor expected from a PTS final assignment and even exceeded expectations.
Dr. Raffety spoke of four students who together created a podcast on immigrant churches in America. She said that because they were able to use technology “they had more confidence, and it definitely brought a higher level of creativity to the project.” In one project for Dr. Carter’s Social Christianity course, some students searched the library archives and found songs from the US Labor Movement (1846-1927), reproduced them, and developed a website to share the music and their academic research (check it out here!). Dr. Trozzo’s Queer Hermeneutics class developed a website to provide resources for queer Christians, which you can visit here. Dr. Raffety said that her students doing digital assignments (like the whiteboard sketch video here) met the same learning objectives as those who wrote traditional papers. The creative medium allowed them to integrate what they had learned through the course material and apply it.
This global pandemic forced all of us to move to an entirely online platform. This was understandably intimidating and stressful for many people in our community, including faculty. One instructor said of the move online, “What started out as fear in the weeks leading up to the fall term…turned into nerves, and eventually hope once I learned some of the virtual teaching tools. I was surprised when that hope transformed into excitement and even wonder. Thank you, Spirit. And thank you, ODL.”
The move to online classes served as an invitation for instructors to:
• Enhance their teaching methods
• Clarify their goals
• Refine their content
• Stretch their pedagogical imaginations
The usual approach to teaching and learning at PTS had to be reexamined and adapted as we moved online. We have all had to learn new ways to relaying information, of having fruitful and robust discussions, of connecting with one another and building relationships. Kelsey Lambright, our Digital Learning Designer, reports “Both students and faculty have learned how to try something new related to theological education in this season. This has piqued curiosity in some to explore new ways to teach and learn moving forward. I’m optimistic that this spirit of trying will continue to be useful as the faculty imagine creative ways to implement the new master’s degree curriculum.”
Looking to the Future
Summer language courses this year will be fully online, as they were last summer. The format for the online courses will include some synchronous elements, where students will join in live web meetings (with classmates, an instructor, a TA, or a tutor) and some asynchronous elements, where students can complete independent work in their own time including interacting with video lectures, completing activities, participating in a small group precepts, and engaging in enrichment activities. Students will have a good deal of flexibility concerning when they complete asynchronous work, so long as they finish elements of the course that will be built upon in the live, synchronous meetings. If you would like to know more, please feel free to contact the instructor directly or email email@example.com with any questions.
Limited housing will be available for those students who are not already living on campus. All campus events and conferences for the summer will also be virtual.
Fall 2021 Planning
It is Princeton Theological Seminary’s intention to return to our classrooms in the fall semester, and we are planning for every course to have at least some degree of regular in-person components, subject to appropriate health protocols and occupancy limits within classrooms, with smaller courses fully in-person if conditions permit. Accordingly, we expect that every student will be in residence on campus or in the Princeton area in the fall in order to complete their coursework. Students who anticipate challenges or have questions about fall plans should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“As we move into 2021 and beyond, we carry the experiences of 2020 with us. We have renewed appreciation for our connectedness as a community, renewed eagerness to learn new things, renewed confidence that we can and will carry out our mission whatever challenges come our way, and renewed hope that we have the imagination and resilience to meet those challenges.”
Rev. Dr. Lindsey Trozzo, Associate Director of Digital Learning