Next year will mark my 10th year of online seminary teaching. While my full-time job is with Logos as its academic editor, I’ve never completely said goodbye to being a professor, the job that I had while finishing graduate school. My transition to Logos gave me the chance to see what distance education (DE) was like, so I jumped in—I took some DE courses through the local community college to view the experience from a student perspective. My familiarity with both sides of the DE enterprise has helped shape the goals and strategy for Logos Mobile Education (Mobile Ed).
I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend in DE, particularly in seminary education: many DE seminary students do not have access to high-quality theological content appropriate to the level at which they are enrolled. That may surprise you, but it’s true. And it’s a key factor in explaining why the Logos library sets Mobile Ed apart from any other DE experience.
“I hope you live near a library”
One of the fundamental necessities for a quality, content-driven education in biblical studies is access to standard reference material. That’s why seminaries have libraries. Classroom lectures and required textbooks are where learning begins, not where it should end. Part of the discipline of doing genuine academic biblical study is learning to access scholarly material on your study topic. Traditionally, brick-and-mortar libraries have been the repositories for that material. This has largely changed in the DE model, in which accessible library resources are scarce.
Today, students have access to electronic search catalogs and, via search engines, vast amounts of information on the Internet. But search engines can only tell you what scholars have written. They do not give you access to the material. Academic books on theology and the Bible are copyrighted; they’re not available online for free. Bible colleges and seminaries spend a lot of money every year to acquire library resources vital to their students’ education experience. It’s no surprise that many DE programs advise their students to find theological libraries near their home when they enroll. As a result, DE students fall into two groups: (1) those who live near a library or have Logos, and (2) those who don’t. And even if students do have access to a library, they often find that the books they need have already been checked out or are already in use.
The Logos digital library solves this problem. That’s why it’s the centerpiece of Mobile Ed courseware. You don’t need to live near a library—all the books you own are yours wherever you are. No one will jump in the library queue ahead of you—you have your own private library.
“Why do you hate websites for research?”
Though some of my students may think so, I don’t hate the Internet for research. I just hate the lack of availability of current, academically sound material in biblical studies and theology. And the Internet is, of course, where most students without library access go for research.
I’m concerned with the credibility of available resources, many of which haven’t undergone the peer-review process. Peer-reviewed content has been approved by a team of scholars who check the writing for factual errors, lack of coherence in argumentation, or omission of important information. Peer review prevents someone with no expertise in a field from getting their work published—work that unwitting students might take as “scholarly material.”
While the Internet does contain some solid academic material for biblical studies, that material is hidden in a minefield of academically useless and potentially erroneous teaching. We took all of this into consideration in the Mobile Ed courseware. Our professors and course designers direct students to the best peer-reviewed material. Students who take Mobile Ed courses don’t have to worry about sifting the wheat from the chaff.
“This stuff is over my head!”
Any accredited seminary pays for subscription access to scholarly journal databases. Enrolled DE students can use these databases to find articles in scholarly journals. This doesn’t sound problematic, but it is—and it’s a sadly inadequate resource solution for most DE students.
In many ways, journals are wonderful research tools. Ultimately, though, the content of many journals is too advanced for most students. Journals contain articles written by scholars for scholars and advanced graduate students. Many of my students find journal material largely incomprehensible. Articles are full of academic jargon and, in the case of biblical studies, lots of Hebrew and Greek that students have not yet learned. But DE programs are forced to this alternative in the absence of a digital library containing standard peer-reviewed reference material and books that would be found in a seminary library.
Mobile Ed and the Logos library: a better solution
No seminary student should be without a digital library. I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact this problem has on seminary students. We need a better solution. Mobile Ed courseware is the first education program designed around a better solution—owning your own digital library.