Sunday, February 05, 2006

Plugged In

I already spend a lot of time online – keeping up with emails, trying to post blogs, and watching every off-season move of the Texas Rangers. Now I have a new Internet responsibility …

I am the professor for an online class that is being introduced to Cameroon, through Columbia College. The new program is called “eChristianEd,” and consists of six semesters of classwork, leading to a Christian Education certification through the United Methodist Church. Ours is the first international affiliate of eChristianEd. (For more information, check out their website at:

Thanks to a grant from the General Board of Global Ministries, this first class is being offered without fees to a total of eleven students, nine of which are United Methodist Cameroonians.

We began the class three weeks ago with a face-to-face meeting in the computer lab of the American School of Yaounde. I introduced the online classroom environment, and put the class through a series of exercises designed to help each person think about their individual call to ministry.

The first meeting yielded some interesting results. I discovered that some of the participants don’t know the computer as well as I thought; I even had to teach one of them how to use a mouse! But they quickly grasped the concept of logging in, passwords, and submitting assignments.

They are now responsible for keeping up with the class by regularly logging into the online classroom, reading their assignments, completing quizzes and papers, and participating in threaded discussions.

This first course is entitled, “Biblical and Theological Foundations for Ministry.” The second course is called “Foundations for Christian Education,” and the remaining four classes deal with the different types of education necessary in the church: children, youth, adult, and family.

Students are getting a broad overview of some basic Biblical and theological topics in this first course. We’re currently studying the Old Testament, to be followed by New Testament, a crash course in 2,000 years of church history, an introduction to Methodism, and a taste of worship.

Leah discovered the course during some online surfing a few months ago, and became excited about the possibilities inherent in distance education. She earned her Master’s degree online through University of Phoenix, and since then, has wondered if online courses could help overcome some of the logistical problems that exist in sub-Saharan Africa.

For example, it is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to transport people to a central location for extensive training. But most towns in Cameroon have at least a couple of cybercafes, which are very inexpensive.

Furthermore, the pastors who are participating in this program don’t have to be absent from their homes or pulpits during the course. They can do the work concurrently with their pastoral appointments.

To be sure, the Internet will never be the end-all, be-all solution to theological education. You can’t learn how to be a pastor, or a Sunday School teacher, by sitting in front of a computer screen. But it can certainly play a huge role in overcoming the obstacles that millions of Africans face in acquiring basic information, skills, and higher education.