Divinity by distance
The first students to complete a distance learning Divinity degree at the University of St Andrews will graduate today (30th November 2005).
The ancient subject was given the 21st century treatment by the University’s School of Divinity when it launched a new internet- based programme two years ago. The programme, which relates the Bible directly to issues of contemporary concern, attracted students from all over the world when it was launched in the summer of 2003.
The first five students to graduate in the part-time masters programme include a minister from Angus and a former attorney from the US, who will make it to St Andrews in person to collect their degrees.
“Bible and the Contemporary World” is a part-time degree, developed to meet a real demand for flexible courses of this nature. The programme leads to either the M.Litt. or the Graduate Diploma. With the exception of a few days of residential study at the beginning of each term, the postgraduate programme is taught entirely via the web – including on-line seminars.
The programme juxtaposes issues of contemporary social and political concern (including globalisation, consumerism, feminism, freedom and green issues) with the ancient texts which has served for two thousand years as a primary authority for Christian faith and practice.
The School’s Distance Learning Officer, Dr Eric Stoddart said:
“Only a few of the many people who want to do postgraduate study can afford either the time or money to step aside from employment and re- locate to Scotland. Not only can we offer an alternative but one that draws on the internationally- recognised scholarship of the University’s teaching staff.
“It is hard work for these students but they become experts in time-management. Interacting with each other online means they draw on experiences from across the world and as a mixed group of clergy and lay people.”
Students currently on the course are a diverse group which includes a school chaplain in Canada, a former US Navy Flight Officer (currently a full-time mum), a retired missionary now living in Scotland, an AIDS charity worker based in Northern Ireland, a parish priest from Gloucestershire and an oil industry worker living in northeast Scotland.
The two students graduating in person today are Rev Brian Ramsay (MLitt) from Forfar and Tory Vornholt (Grad Dip) from the US.
Brian is a Church of Scotland minister from Guthrie who first studied at St Andrews in the 70’s. He undertook the course ‘as a way of refreshing my theological thinking’, and the distance learning format was ideal because it allowed him to fit the work in around his parish work and family commitments.
Tory, from Georgia, was an attorney before she gave up her practise to raise her three children. She later returned to study, completing a degree in theology after taking up an interest in the subject. She found the distance-learning programme at St Andrews an ideal route to complete her studies and, since completing her degree, Tory has been offered a faculty position at a college in Atlanta.
She said: “The long-distance program was perfect for me as I still had three children at home and was unable to relocate to continue my education. In addition to being able to study in an area in which I was interested and the reputation of the school at St Andrews, the program appealed to me because of the broad range of students who were participating in it.”
The first graduates demonstrate the success of the innovative course, which allows students to continue in their various employments or home lives all over the world, while studying via cyberspace. By holding initial residential courses and setting up bulletin boards, tutors ensure that students do not miss out on the classroom experience by encouraging online interaction between students and between students and lecturers.
NOTE TO PICTURE EDITORS:
YOU ARE INVITED TO A PHOTOCALL OF THE TWO GRADUANDS ON THE DAY OF GRADUATION (WEDNESDAY 30TH NOVEMBER).
THEY WILL BE AVAILABLE AT 2.30PM (DIRECTLY AFTER CHAPEL SERVICE) IN THE CLOISTERS AT ST SALVATOR’S QUADRANGLE, NORTH STREET, ST ANDREWS. PHOTOCALL SHOULD LAST NO LONGER THAN 15 MINUTES DUE TO CLOSE PROXIMITY OF GRADUATION.
ERIC STODDART, THEIR TUTOR, WILL ALSO BE AVAILABLE.
Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews
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