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Joseph Pearce

Joseph Pearce is Senior Editor at the Augustine Institute, editor of the St. Austin Review and the author of books on Shakespeare, Tolkien, Chesterton and other Christian literary figures.


Writing for Faith & Culture

We welcome the submission of articles of between 600 and 1,500 words on topics related to Catholic faith and culture. Articles should be emailed as Word attachments to Joseph Pearce.

The Augustine Institute and Distance Education

The Augustine Institute and Distance Education

An Interview with Tim Gray

Timothy C. Gray is President and Professor of Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute, and author, most recently, of Peter: Keys to Following Jesus.


FAITH & CULTURE:

Why did you start a distance education program?

 

TIM GRAY:

Simply put, we wanted to reach more people. Today we have students in 40 states and 12 countries. About two-thirds of our distance education students are already working in ministry, and they don’t have the freedom to move to Denver and spend 2 years here, so they take courses from a distance while working in the Lord’s vineyard right where they live. They often tell us that after only one or two courses their study with us has transformed their ministry work. Distance education allows us to train good people not only for mission, but many who are already in the midst of mission for Christ!


FAITH & CULTURE:

How is online education unique at the Augustine Institute?

 

TIM GRAY:

People are often surprised to hear me talk about mission regarding distance education, but our distance education program is solely for the sake of mission, not money. I hear many schools embarking on distance education in order to bring in more money, to overcome funding challenges. Our distance education program is for one reason only—mission. If you do distance education for money you will short change your students and you won’t have your heart in it. We are unique in that our entire organization is in distance education in order to make more mission! That is what motivates us to give the best quality service to our students.


FAITH & CULTURE:

What are the most common biases against distance education?

 

TIM GRAY:

There are many biases; some are deserved and many, frankly, are not. There is a perception that the quality in distance education is not the same, that there is no interaction with the instructor, and that it is just a plug and play repeat course. We often surprise students with our model. We never re-use our course video recordings for subsequent years; our distance education students receive the teaching, insights and materials our professors are teaching this year… not five years ago. We put a one-year expiration on distance education courses; I don’t know anyone else who does that.


FAITH & CULTURE:

What role do the faculty at the Augustine Institute play in instructing distance education students?

 

TIM GRAY:

We have a dozen faculty members who live in-residence here in Denver. Classes are recorded here on campus and then uploaded for students to view on their own schedule. Discussion boards, to which our faculty give an immense amount of time in each course, create a terrific forum for student to student interaction, as well as interaction with the professor. The key is that each distance education student is a person to our faculty. They all know the student is the priority. This experience is echoed by our students. In January, we hosted a group of distance students for what we call our week-long “intensive” courses. One student said… “when I come to the Augustine Institute, it feels like I’m coming home. Even though I live 1,000 miles away people remember me and my name, and I am a part of the Augustine Institute.” I also hear that because the video quality is so good they feel like they have actually been in class here with us. 


FAITH & CULTURE:

So do you really believe that distance education can provide the same quality of education as studying in person?

 

TIM GRAY:

The power is in the truth and we have lost confidence in the truth. I know that personal interaction with students can be transformative. But we also have to remember, in humility, that the agent of transformation is the truth and the Holy Spirit. Neither of them are limited by distance education. I know many who have converted because of listening to a talk or reading a book, without any interaction with the speaker or author. The truth is powerful. We at the Augustine Institute serve the truth, and simply try to make the communication of that to our distance education students as clear and easy as possible.


FAITH & CULTURE:

Do you have a favorite story of how this education is contributing to the mission of the Church in the New Evangelization?

 

TIM GRAY:

I could name so many stories of students who have gone on to serve in leadership roles directly impacting the Church. We have Directors of Evangelization in the Dioceses of Charlotte, Paterson, Green Bay, Oklahoma… we have experts in communication at Catholic Answers as well as at a number of other apostolates. But it is not just about the role or office our graduates have, it is the formation and faith they take into the world. Thus a current student in New Mexico became Catholic and immediately started our distance education program. Now several years later she leads her parish RCIA program. Now she helps guide others on their journey home to Jesus and his Church. Every student has a story, but more importantly everyone one of our students can share “The Story” of our Faith with others. Is there anything better than that? 


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