Faith, Learning, and Online Education at Baylor

March 16, 2020
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Faith, Learning, and Online Education at Baylor
Darin Davis, Director

As Baylor faculty, we are entrusted with a special mission. For us, excellent teaching always has been about helping students to learn more than just the content of a course. We also hope that our students will learn to seek wisdom, and thus live with meaning and purpose according to their God-given vocation (or calling). The commitments of the Christian faith are not add-ons for a place like Baylor. Instead, since 1845, faith has animated teaching and learning.

The present global health crisis and our swift transition to online education compel us to ask a new question: how might faith animate teaching and learning online?

There are no simple answers to this question. It is complex enough when we teach students face-to-face, and it seems more so when we introduce new modes and platforms of instruction. The following brief thoughts and questions are intended as starting points for reflection as we navigate together these next few weeks.

  • Focus on things that matter most. Looking afresh at our course syllabi and schedule might be an opportunity to reframe our objectives around the most important questions. What is the point of our course? What purpose (or whom) does it truly serve? Might there be new questions that have come from the pandemic that might be asked from the lens of the Christian faith? Questions about the reality of suffering and healing? About the fragility of human life? About trust and hope in God, especially in times of distress?

  • Can we ask better questions? Transitioning to online education will require us to become even clearer when we explain from a distance our course goals, expectations, and even the details of course material. Our care to communicate clearly gives us the chance to grow in the art of asking our students good questions; maybe better than we did when we taught in a classroom. When we reflect upon the teaching ministry of Jesus, we realize that he asked questions that went to the heart of the matter. Sometimes his questions were direct, and other times they were not. But his questions always sought to bring greater understanding in those who heard them. Asking good questions, we know, sometimes serves learning far more powerfully than simply asserting an answer.

  • Virtual virtues? Baylor is committed to the character formation of students. Is this possible online? We must try. Might we cultivate attentiveness as we focus on reading a text or the implications of a chemistry experiment and thereby grow in humility? Might we extend charity (intellectual and otherwise) to one another in these challenging days more than we did before, especially as we realize that our own well-being depends on the common good? Can we be more mindful of ways to cultivate a learning community through online collaborative assignments and projects? Message boards, for instance, might be one way for students to appreciate how their own learning truly depends on others. In so doing, we might be helping our students to appreciate the gift of friendship (a key component of the Christian moral life) especially in the midst of difficulty.

There are many people poised to help you as you make this transition to online learning. Please know that the Institute for Faith and Learning will do all it can to help you, too, even as we are doing our best to make these changes in our own classes. If there are particular needs or questions you have, please send them to ifl@baylor.edu, and we will respond as quickly as we can.

Blessings to you all, and thank you for your commitment to our students and to one another.
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