Sep. 20, 2020
Biola University professor Joanne Jung challenges the status quo of online education with her new book “Character Formation in Online Education: A Guide for Instructors, Administrators, and Accredited Agencies.” Released Oct. 15, the book is the first of its kind, as it addresses the untapped potential for character formation in online education.
Jung, professor of biblical and theological studies, believes success in the classroom must start with the heart and character of the person teaching it, even in an online setting. Here, she shares with us her heart for online education and the need for professors to integrate character formation in online classes.
Jung's interests lie in hermeneutics and spiritual formation. Her research of the English Puritans, specifically their spiritual practices and community, fuels her passion to nurture her students' growth in their knowledge of the Bible and see that knowledge impact their spiritual transformation. This passion to see others grow in Christ extends beyond her students, as she serves those within her local church and community.
In addition, Jung is speaking at Biola’s Asian American Ministry Conference this weekend. She also gives a sneak peek into her talk here.
At what point, did you realize the need for a book like Character Formation in Online Education?
The need to write a book such as this came from a conversation I had with two of my colleagues at a meeting held in 2012 in Milwaukee. One of my friends reflected on a few of my interests. He knew of my commitment to spiritual transformation as the primary focus for the classes I teach. He also knew of my research in the English Puritan practice of conference, which blends biblical literacy and soul care. My support and enthusiasm for online learning was palpable, as I found transformation happening in my students using an online format for teaching. He suggested I write a book that combined all three of these interests. We had fun that night toying with a few possibilities for a title, but as soon as I returned to my hotel room that night, I started jotting down the flood of thoughts that came to mind for the book. It was a long yet inspired night.
I thought further of the reports of little or no student involvement and little or no engagement with professors in online courses. Students complained of not needing to read or write much and being required to submit a final paper for the TA to grade before a final course grade was assigned. They lamented over the lack of involvement with or oversight by faculty and engagement between students was minimal. I contrasted this to the experiences I was having with the students in my online courses where students found the course spiritually transformative.
I wanted the book to reflect my hope and confidence for professors in offering high quality online courses that inspire and that are transformational.
How is this concept new or why wasn't it considered until now?
The concept of character formation isn't a new idea, but with distance education and the emphasis on being separated geographically or by use of a computer for classes, it would seem improbable that this format could foster the closeness and depth of relationship needed to promote character formation. It was assumed that character formation could only occur with the professor and students present in the traditional residential classroom.
I took the challenge to translate what was happening in my courses into an online format. What I found was that with proper and purposeful assignments, building and sustaining a strong learning community, and use of various features offered in a web-based system for a course, these opportunities allowed students to grow in their knowledge of God, evaluate their relationship with him, experience him more intimately, all while understanding themselves more deeply.
Why is it so significant to ensure online education and character formation are paired?
It is my hope that online education offers high-quality education, and that involves character formation. Fundamentally, professors want their students to be changed by what they learn. We are always changed by what we learn and the best kind of learning changes us more and more to the person that we were originally designed to be, so character formation can be synonymous with spiritual transformation.
To foster that depth of student learning, my hope is for professors to be inspired to inspire. Professors want to invest and inspire their students not only in the disciplines they represent but also as students become mature adults. I want students to be inspired, not only with the practical matters of an online course but with heart matters as well. Critical thinking in an online format can be achieved and the critical thinking that impacts the heart can be achieved as well. Online education and character formation are necessary complements that just need to be addressed in a more holistic fashion.
Can you give an example of how character formation can be weaved into an online assignment?
The intentionality of well-framed questions can easily promote thoughtfulness toward character formation in an online setting. Questions that impact character formation are those whose answers make a close connection between the subject matter and human emotion. These purposeful prompts further the engagement of the heart and have the greatest potential impact on the soul (which is the whole person, body and spirit) because they apply information, facts and truths to people’s lives. Well-framed questions force students to wrestle with or meditate on the information presented. The inclusion of the word soul in some questions and conversations is vital. An example of this might be: “Consider Psalm 119:11, 13. Is it more difficult for you to get the Word into your heart and soul or to speak when the word impacts your life? Explain.” Christian conversations are mostly devoid of the use of this word, yet every human being is a soul that requires attentive care, which ultimately means the heart receives attending as well.
How have other online education professors reacted to this concept?
I have had opportunities to share the ideas found in the book with my colleagues. A number of affirming comments were communicated to a fellow faculty member who used these ideas in his online course. The comments attested to the level of engagement and involvement of both him and his TA and how students grew in their knowledge of Scripture, grew in their faith, recognized the professor’s passion for Christ and care for his students, and felt valued as a student. Many noted that these were experienced despite its online format.
You are speaking at Biola's Asian American Ministry Conference. What is the focus of your talk?
How to be a godly mom. If that doesn’t put any pressure on someone, nothing will. I’m still learning how to be a godly mom, but I’ve I have found that being a godly mom is linked with other roles, such as being a godly wife and even mother-in-law (or mother-in-love, as I like to say).
Joanne Jung is an Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies.
Written by Jenna Loumagne, media relations specialist. For more information, contact Jenna at (562) 777-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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