Briefly Noted: The Chronicle, on “Rebooting the Academy: 12 Big Ideas”

The world of higher education finds itself in a heightened tizzy these days, as it adjusts to many new realities, such as online education, electronic course management systems, and so forth. A recent edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 2: A10-17) heightens the tizzy even further as it takes the reader on a lively, thought-provoking romp through new approaches to teaching and research with digital tools. Like many romps, it has no real destination, but the experience is worth it.

The article presents 12 cutting-edge educators who are making tech savvy proposals and contributions to education at the secondary and college level. This blogpost highlights only five of the Chronicle’s 12 leaders in order to give an idea of what “Rebooting the Academy” might look like (otherwise, we’d have to rename this column “Laboriously Noted” or, perhaps, “Unctuously Noted”).

So here they are, our five chosen innovators:

1. Candace Thille of Carnegie Mellon University seeks to address “higher education’s ‘cost disease’ with team-built online courses used across institutions.” (A10) Thille directs the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon. The initiative aims for faculty at various institutions to work with her team on creating “expensively built online course materials, cheaply available to the masses.” (A10) Her proposal includes creating open online courses (in core subjects like statistics and biology) which track student work on online modules outside of class. After faculty consult that data, they know better how to use in-class time, so the proposal goes. Thille desires to correct widespread student failure in such courses, at a lower cost to students, but her proposal is not without much backlash from the faculty she speaks with as she tours the country promoting the initiative.

2. Sal Kahn of Kahn Academy is working to “build a vast library of short educational videos” that serves as “a challenge to end the lecture as we know it.” (A10) Kahn Academy is a free online library of thousands of 10-minute tutorials on subjects from calculus to American history. In the tutorials, Kahn’s own voice narrates work he does on a digital whiteboard. You never see his face, only hear his voice. Students watch the tutorials at home then do more work in the area at school the next day. His work caught the attention of Bill Gates, who threw a lot of financial support Kahn’s way via the Gates Foundation. Kahn and his academy were recently featured in a 60 Minutes piece (

3. Burck Smith, founder of StraighterLine, believes he can “make online education cheaper by letting companies offer courses on behalf of colleges.” (A14) In fact, Smith believes he can get costs down to $999 for the first full year of college. He plans to do this by providing popular college courses online and partnering with accredited colleges that give students transfer credit. The students are students of the company.

4. John Wilkin of the University of Michigan wants to “pool digital collections from universities to build a super-library for the 21st century.” (A14) Wilkin is executive director of HathiTrust, an “online digital repository with more than 10 million volumes.” The project was created in 2008 alongside Google’s book-scanning project and is housed at U. Michigan. The goal for Wilkin is not to emphasize “digital” but “library” in his project. That is, the purpose of HathiTrust is to figure out “how to manage ever-bigger amounts of information and how to make the best collective use of resources.” This is a constant challenge for libraries in the age of the hard book and digital book.

5. Daniel Cohen from George Mason University is trying to “find new ways to do humanities research using digital tools, and give even non-techy scholars the ability to use them.” (A16) Cohen is actively thinking about how technology can advance, not harm, disciplines like history. “Mr. Cohen feels that many scholars don’t grasp the full potential of digital tools.” Thus, his center developed Zotero, which is a powerful way to do (and save) research quickly. Cohen is above all seeking to challenge old ways of reading texts while supporting more efficient collection of the growing number of texts.

Well there you have it folks. Just as your professor has finally replaced his leisure suits with sandblasted jeans, his papyri with power point, and his greenbook with Moodle, he might have a few more adjustments to make.

Distance Learning Options at Southeastern

We at BtT would like to take a moment make you aware of the distance-learning options at Southeastern. Many of you have commitments to family, work and ministry that make it impossible for you to attend our main campus at Wake Forest for the entirety of your particular degree program. To meet these real needs, an innovative system of delivering theological education to the student has been developed that is academically sound, ministry focused and Christ centered through the use of online classes, extension center, hybrid format classes and short-term intensives. Students can combine online and extension center classes with hybrids and five-day break classes to earn an entire degree with only a limited amount of time at our main campus.

The most recent development in this system is the use of what we call “Hybrids”. Hybrid classes begin each semester with online materials and include a weekend with the professor at our Wake Forest campus. Students spend time in discussion groups, have Q&A time and interact with the most current issues in each field. After the weekend with the professor, students complete the class with the online materials. This allows student the flexibility of distance learning plus face-to-face time with our faculty and on campus credit for the class.

There are multiple options for taking advantage of distance learning in earning your degree at SEBTS:

  • The Master of Arts in Christian Studies can be done entirely at the Tampa Extension Center
  • The Associate of Divinity degree may be earned entirely via distance learning.
  • Masters of Divinity students may earn up to 30 hours via distance learning.
  • Undergraduate students may also incorporate up to 30 hours via distance learning.

The staff in our Distance Learning Office (Director, Dr. John Ewart; Assistant Director, Jerry Lassetter; and Administrative Staff, Sandy Herrera and Kristi Emme) would be happy to discuss a plan for taking distance learning classes that will suit your needs. They are available by email at or by phone (919)761-2269. Further information is also available on our website at