Briercrest techies find niche developing online courses

Posted: September 24, 2012

Luke Johnson and Brian Westnedge are in virtual heaven.

The duo is part of the distance education team at Briercrest College and Seminary where they say the future for online education is bright.

“There are big things happening these days for Briercrest,” Johnson exclaimed. “I think that while we’re on the verge of expanded degree granting and university status – to be able to get ourselves into this large burgeoning field of online education – it’s important for us to do that really well.”

“I can’t think of a more exciting place to be than distance education at Briercrest right now,” Westnedge chimed in.

Johnson, the web developer, and Westnedge, the instructional designer, agree that the responsibilities of their jobs enable them to embrace their inner nerd.

“I have a real strongly developed nerdiness in the web world,” Johnson chuckled. “But I also really love academics. I kind of joke, all my streams of nerdiness are flowing together. I can contribute academically here but also my technical abilities can really serve our efforts as well.”

“When you start working with video conferencing technologies and just get to play around with it – that’s a pretty cool job!” Westnedge said. “To be able to use it to educate people – to take those technologies and think how we can teach with them is even more exciting.”

The skills Johnson and Westnedge have are helping Briercrest work toward the goal of eventually having several undergraduate and graduate degrees online. The path toward this goal is filled with smaller steps.

One of those steps was making some changes to the three online courses, (Introduction to Christianity, Gospels, and Foundations in Youth Ministry) that Briercrest offered last year.

“We ran three classes last year as a pilot project and we learned a lot,” Westnedge said. “Those same three courses are going to be offered again in January, having done a bit of a revamp on each of them.”

Additional online courses are currently being developed so that new course offering should be available each semester. Over the next few months Johnson and Westnedge will be working on digitizing all of the distance learning material so that everything is online.

“We’re really intent on making our education available through mobile learning,” Westnedge explained. “To really open up the versatility of distance education is a big push.”

“All the audio/video will be in a format that you can access on your phone or your tablet,” Johnson said. “Just so it’s truly available wherever you might be.”

Both men agree that it’s crucial for Briercrest to develop and offer online degrees.

“It’s beneficial for us to meet everyone where they are,” Johnson said. “Not everyone is able to quit their job and come out here for an extended amount of time to get their education.”

“As we move into online education I think we have something to offer,” Westnedge added. “As we look at what’s offered as far as quality theological outstanding Christian education in the online world, there’s not a strong Canadian presence there. I think we have a lot of opportunity to be real frontrunners in moving into that line.”