Why does interactivity play such a key role in the Semlink program? The short answer is that we believe it significantly adds value to the learning experience for our distance learning students. The long answer can be found below.
- Why Interactivity?
- Requirements for Interaction
At Semlink, we believe interactivity increases the quality of distance education by providing a classroom-like environment in which students can discuss and debate ideas relevant to their course. Semlink Online is an online supplement to all of our Semlink classes.
The first aspect of Semlink interactivity is an online discussion forum where students can interact with other students about current issues and cultural events as they relate to the subject area of the courses they are taking. These discussion topics are called Integration Questions because they challenge students to extend and integrate what they're learning in a given course and apply it to the contemporary world in which they live.
The second element of Semlink interactivity allows for dialogue between students and their Teaching Fellow. Fellows are upper-year degree students who have demonstrated exceptional achievement and ability in a given area of expertise and who desire to pursue teaching as a vocational objective. They generate Conversation Starters - questions relating specifically to course content - and then correspond individually with Semlink students via email, allowing for personalized feedback and encouragement for our students.
We believe that integrating our courses with the culture in which we live, sharing thoughts with other students, and corresponding one-on-one with instructors greatly increases the benefit and educational rewards of a Semlink course. We hope you find the interactivity portion of your Semlink to be a benefit.
Two kinds of interaction are required to receive credit for your Semlink course: You must participate four (4) times in the Integration Discussion Forum, and you must correspond with your Semlink Teaching Fellow a minimum of three (3) times beginning with your response to the Conversation Starter found on your course web page here on the Semlink website.
These conversations are focused on the area of theological education associated with the course you are taking. For example, students in Introduction to Christian Apologetics will participate in Integration Discussions focused on the broader area of applied theology in ministry in general. The discussion starters found here are designed to make students evaluate, analyze, synthesize and apply what they're learning in their courses in a cross-curricular environment. You'll be sharing ideas not just with other students in your course, but with students taking any course in that broader area of study. Discussions include reference to current events, culture and literature, case studies and discussions based on Scripture. Discussions will take place primarily among students, but the forums are moderated by the Semlink Teaching Fellows, and hopefully an occassional professor will wander in and put on the gloves.
The Integration Questions are part of your course requirements. You must participate in a significant way a minimum of four (4) times in the broader area of study of your Semlink class (Church History, Theology, Ministry of the Church, Applied Theology in Ministry, Old Testament, or New Testament Studies).
Generally, Teaching Fellows look for integration posts to be right around fifteen lines. Students will not fail if you only do fourteen, but you will not automatically pass if you write fifteen. Students often err on the side of brevity when they answer the questions without attempting to explain why they have arrived at their conclusions. Making bold assertions probably will not warrant credit; making assertions that are supported by evidence or argumentation will. Another mistake involves students who simply agree with previous posts. Creditable posts will also discuss why previous posts are helpful or otherwise. Essentially, we are looking for a discussion of the matters at hand - argue with somebody, agree with somebody (but explain why), post your own unique thoughts - just make a post that clearly states your position and explains your thought process. The best posts will answer the initial question, respond to previous posts, and maybe even redirect the discussion by asking a related question. Remember, the purpose of all this is dialogue. If you do not say very much, conversation becomes very difficult.
It is our goal to make the interactivity components engaging and stimulating. If there is a topic you are interested in exploring with fellow students and faculty, please email your suggestion to your Teaching Fellow.
The other required element of interactivity is the email-based conversation with your Semlink Teaching Fellow. By responding to a Conversation Starter, students have the opportunity to interact in a more course-focused way. Students read the first question, think and reflect about it, and then reply by submitting the form on the web page to the course instructors. Subsequent feedback from the instructors is done via email, and provides another level of value to the Semlink environment.
The Conversation Starters and all subsequent email correspondence are a required part of your Semlink course. You must participate in a significant way a minimum of three (3) times - first, submit your answer to the conversation starter, and then reply two more times to follow-up questions that come from the Semlink Teaching Fellow. All replies must meet common-sense minimum requirements for graduate level work. Be sure to allow for at least one month over which this correspondence can take place.
Typically, responses to the conversation starters should range between three hundred (300) and five hundred (500) words. You will not automatically fail if you only write 299; you will not automatically pass if you write 300. These are general guidelines and ought to be treated as such. In regard to content, above all else the student should answer the question. This probably goes without saying, but many students do not receive credit initially simply because they do not answer the question. The response should also be thoughtful. After you read the question, take some time to ponder an answer. You do not have to do extensive research, but you should think about the question and the issues raised for a while. After you have had time to think and perhaps even crafted a rough draft, then you should sit down to begin the conversation. Please make sure you take the time to edit your response for grammatical and spelling errors. There are three essential qualities of a good conversation starter: communication, clarity, and critical reflection. If any of these are missing, then it will be much more challenging to receive credit.
An open discussion forum called "Iron Sharpens Iron," pays homage to an actual bulletin board that hung outside the South Hamilton campus cafeteria some time ago. This is a place for Semlink students to post their own 95 theses on a virtual door and see what kind of reaction they receive from the Semlink community. While this is not a required component of your Semlink course, we encourage your to engage at this level with your peers.
There are also opportunities to participate in discussion forums that are not as focused on course content or even related to your field of study. Dealing with issues of spiritual formation and formation for ministry are essential parts of pursuing theological education at the graduate level.