When a Computer is Your Classroom

Can Eastern’s legacy of transformative, community-based Christian education translate to the world of online learning?

Imagine sitting on your couch on a Saturday morning, sunlight streaming through the windows, coffee cup in hand. Your feet are propped up on the coffee table in such a way that your fuzzy slippers peek out over the top of your laptop screen. You’re at home, in your pajamas -- in class?

Say hello to online education, a format embraced by a growing number of students. As the demand for online education has increased, Eastern has continued to meet student needs by adding 35 online programs to its wide array of offerings.

Beyond that, Eastern’s on-campus programs also offer an abundance of online class options. In Fall 2018 alone, Eastern offered 145 online classes. With the new Eastern FastPass™ program beginning this year, residential undergraduate students also receive two tuition-free, online summer classes for each year of study.

But what about the unique Eastern legacy of intimate classrooms where rich relationships can develop between students and professors? Can the transformative style of Christian education that Eastern is known for translate to the world of online learning?

From the professors and students I surveyed, the answer is yes, absolutely.

For Brent Linkstorm, MBA ’18, Eastern’s fully online MBA program allowed him to balance two jobs and the responsibilities of owning a home. He shared, “Through our weekly discussions and group projects, I gained valuable insights from my classmates, and actually felt much more ‘connected’ than in any traditional class I have ever taken.”

So how are Eastern professors creating these spaces of connection? To learn more, I sat down with Professor Rebecca Gidjunis, Director of Eastern’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Rebecca admitted that when she taught her first online class 7 years ago, she was skeptical.

“I loved teaching face-to-face, and I was worried it wasn’t going to translate,” she shared. However, what she found surprised her. “In some ways my students seemed to connect to each other and the material even more.”

Rebecca noticed that online classrooms provided some strengths that traditional classrooms could not. “Particularly for shy students, it can be very intimidating to speak in a traditional classroom. Many students feel more comfortable sharing online.”

The creative media tools available for online learning also allow students with different learning styles to connect and excel. Students can converse via discussion boards, record and watch video responses, and even work together on group projects.

Lizzy Parker ’19 elaborated, “I think there are a lot of ways that professors can facilitate great interactions even though the classes don't meet in person. One thing that I really liked were the interactive video lectures. They had questions embedded into the presentation to check for understanding and provide an opportunity to interact with the content.”

To keep faculty members up-to-date with all the creative ways they can facilitate connection online, Rebecca and her team hosted an all-faculty workshop this August titled “Community-Building Through Educational Technology.” Additional trainings are offered throughout the year.

As technology continues to improve, the sky's the limit for online education, bringing infinite opportunities to share Eastern’s distinctive education with a whole new world of students. The treasured experiences so many have known on a grassy campus tucked away in St. Davids can now be broadcast wirelessly to countless countries, new realms of students, unique study locations --

 -- and perhaps, to your couch.

This article was originally featured in the Fall 2018 Edition of Eastern Magazine. View the full magazine here.