Academic Dean Excited to Launch Distance Education Plus

December 10, 2020

For the last several weeks, Academic Dean & Registrar Mark Thornton has been pleased to share the news about Distance Education Plus (DE+), the College’s newly crafted mode of education.

This new mode will build on the existing Distance Education model, in which students learn independently at their own pace within the framework of a regular semester, with assignments and due dates as usual. DE+ includes independent learning but supplements it with livestreamed class sessions with the professor. Session time may be used for lectures, discussion, and group activities.

The goal of this augmented learning model is increased personal interaction. “DE+ will offer the opportunity for students and faculty to connect personally in the learning experience once again,” Thornton said. “It will provide the life-on-life engagement that has long been a hallmark of education.”

The value of personal relationships and community in Christian higher education is something Thornton can well appreciate. Aside from having two degrees from Christian postsecondary institutions, he has multifaceted experience working at Emmanuel and participating in the life of the College. From 2010 to 2015 he served as campus pastor, and he returned in 2018 as the Field Education coordinator and an adjunct professor. These three roles, in addition to almost thirty years of pastoral-ministry experience, gave Thornton insight into various dimensions of the student experience and the ways in which “life-on-life engagement” helps form effective Christian leaders.

When Thornton was promoted to academic dean & registrar this fall, one of his priorities from the beginning was the mitigation of the effects of the pandemic on personal relationships and community at Emmanuel. While an immediate return to regular in-person instruction was not an option, he believed that there would be other possibilities for the Winter 2021 semester. So, along with other leaders of the College, he began working on augmenting the Distance Education model. DE+ is the fruit of their labours.

While educational institutions’ responses to COVID-19 have nearly always been temporary concessions, Thornton notes that for Emmanuel, the adaptations fit into a broader story of development that may have long-term benefits for the College. “The learning experience at Emmanuel is in the process of becoming even more flexible, accessible, and relevant as greater opportunities for online engagement and remote learning are introduced,” he says.

In the Winter 2021 semester, thirteen courses will be offered through DE+. A number of others will be offered through regular Distance Education or through Rocky Mountain College’s parallel Distributed Learning model.

Thornton, like many others, is still looking forward to the day when the campus classrooms are once again resounding with the sounds of conversation. But until then, the College will continue to innovate in the interest of serving its students and, through them, the broader church of Christ.