September 2020 – Drew Theological School’s beautiful Seminary Hall has become the hub of a global network of learning at Drew.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has prompted the Theological School to adapt and pivot to remote and asynchronous learning, a challenge embraced by the faculty and community. During the summer, faculty teamed up with PhD students to study digital pedagogy and design asynchronous versions of the core curriculum of Drew’s masters degrees for ministry vocations.
“We might be physically distanced due to COVID, but we’re not socially distanced at all, said Associate Professor of American Religious Studies J. Terry Todd. “Our online classrooms are just as vibrant as ever. A class I’m teaching includes students from New Jersey and Nigeria, and many points in-between. Online learning allows us to bring geographic diversity into the mix, deepening our understanding of what religious leadership looks like in many different contexts and how to speak together across all kinds of boundaries.”
A strong leader in innovation, the Theological School has years of experience with virtual face-to-face learning—previously offering video conference-based courses to accommodate working students. The faculty have developed unique ways to continue the rich education virtually, while instilling the strong sense of community familiar to Drew. Associate Dean Tanya Linn Bennett is teaching her classes virtually throughout various locations at Drew to give her students, especially the incoming class, the opportunity to experience the campus while virtual. “Because I have first-semester students learning from ten different countries globally as well as several states across the U.S., I wanted to give them a sense of space and place by offering video lectures from across campus, and, as the seasons change, to give them a sense of how nature changes the campus during the semester,” said Bennett.
"We have expanded our concept of space and time. Now people from beyond our geographical boundaries join in synchronous worship and on the other hand, people can log on and participate any time they want."
Worship in Craig Chapel has always been an important part of the Drew Theological School experience and now the community gathers from wherever they are. “Virtual chapel services have been a revelation on what it means to gather people together in a worship setting,” said Director of Chapel, Associate Professor of Church Music and Composer-in-Residence Mark Miller. “Seven months ago, you wouldn’t have been able to convince me that online worship could be as meaningful and memorable as in-person. But it has happened and is happening—worship services that are (in some ways) even more spiritually rich and compelling than what had come before. We have expanded our concept of space and time. Now people from beyond our geographical boundaries join in synchronous worship and on the other hand, people can log on and participate any time they want.”
Despite the pandemic, the Theological School is welcoming their largest incoming class in decades. Over 40% of the incoming class are international students, and Drew has the flexibility and technology in place to accommodate these students learning across the globe. “Because of the work we’ve already been doing, the shift to virtual learning has been less disruptive than it could have been,” said Acting Dean Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre. “And as we connect with more students across the region and the globe, we continue to learn together about what it takes to do inclusive and student-centered learning among differences and across distances.”