Thursday, May 7, 2015

Up from Zen & Agnosticism: A Student Answers God’s Call in a Virtual Classroom

Distance Students Around the Globe Attend Classes in Real Time with the Seminary’s Steaming Lectures

Christopher Campbell is a Navy veteran whose life not many years ago had became a shambles. Losing a wife to divorce and professing agnosticism despite his Christian up-bringing, he journeyed desperately through Taoism and Zen Buddhism, seeking comfort for his troubled soul. The horrors of war and terrorist atrocities shook his naive worldview concerning good and evil. Growingly skeptical of answers offered by  eastern religions and Islam, he began reading C. S. Lewis and other Christian authors, and now confesses to being astounded by the truth of the Word of God. A Christian real estate agent befriended him and eventually led him to Christ. “I could no longer deny the absolute truth of the gospel and the fact that Jesus Christ is truly God, and worthy of my praise.,” he says.

Although he had been planning advanced education in information technology, God called him to pursue theological training. A resident of Kansas, he discovered Greenville Seminary and found its distance learning program to be a perfect fit.

“The apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, instructs him to ‘Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.’ (2 Timothy 2:15) From the time I sensed a call to serve the church, this is exactly the thing I desired to do,” Christopher says. “However, to rightly divide the word of truth I needed instruction, and so the search for a seminary began. My situation was unique, in that, due to a family situation, I was unable to relocate in order to attend seminary. While this situation was not ideal, the choice before me was to wait until the family situation changed, or press on with seminary studies.

Christopher Campbell streaming a GPTS class at home in Kansas
“Strongly feeling the inward call to ministry, I made the decision to begin seminary studies by utilizing distance education,” he says.  “When I started classes at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, I was unsure of what to expect. Having previously taken a few distance courses from other
institutions, I was concerned that I would simply be listening to recordings from past years’ lectures, which, although providing the information needed, would bring about a feeling of disconnect with the current students and faculty. I could not have been more wrong, or more pleasantly surprised. From the very beginning of my studies at Greenville, I have been treated, not as a second-class student, but with equal attention from the professors. Truly the only difference is one of physical distance, but not relational distance.

“The professors are all very diligent to adapt their teaching presentation to both on-campus students as well as those online in real-time. For example, in the Hebrew and Greek language courses, as a distance student, you must be prepared to read and translate texts just as often as your local peers. This deliberate interaction on the part of the professors ensures that even students physically distant are held to the same high standard of preparedness and engagement.

“Through the strategic use of technology, Greenville Seminary has provided me with an opportunity to prepare for the pastoral ministry that I never could have received otherwise. I am truly thankful to God for establishing this seminary, and for giving them wisdom and foresight to invest in a distance program to train up men to ‘rightly divide the word of truth.’”

Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary has sought to keep pace with the state of the art with its electronic classrooms and distance learning programs, which are used by students around North America and a variety of foreign countries, including those in the Third World. Students like Christopher, who works professionally as an IT consultant and maintains the GPTS web site from his home, can log in over the Internet  to participate just as if they were sitting in our classrooms. Interactive meeting programs have been recently upgraded, giving our distance students an enhanced real-time experience.

GPTS is now pursuing further upgrades which will make the learning experience even more effective. It is our objective to provide our professors with high-end tablet computers — namely Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablets — which will equip them to more effectively communicate lesson components to distance students. These devices, for example, will allow professors to transmit hand-written “whiteboard” content directly to distant students’ computers. Currently, professors use standard classroom whiteboards for diagrams or other lesson content; but classroom cameras do not adequately capture and transmit whiteboard images to distance students. The new tablets would greatly enhance these teaching techniques, especially in our Greek and Hebrew courses which depend so heavily on visualizations. One of the benefits of technology in the classroom is helping language learners assimilate class instruction more quickly and effectively.

For the benefit of students in classroom, we also need additional projection equipment. Four ceiling-mounted digital projectors are required, one for each of our four classrooms.

We have identified sources for discounts on Surface Pro 3 tablets and projectors. Still these devices are not inexpensive. We are therefore initiating an off-budget fund-raising effort to make this technological upgrade possible. Direct donations have provided some of our original goal of $9,650. We are seeking to raise an additional $5,710 as soon as possible to purchase and integrate these devices into our program in time for the 2015-16 academic year.

If you see the value of this educational approach for men like Christopher Campbell and others around the world, please consider helping to provide funds needed by contributing through our special appeal.

Or send a check to: PO Box 690, Taylors SC 29687.
Memo line: "GPTS Tech"

Option: Use our Indiegogo Campaign