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GTU Voices - Online Learning at the GTU

Online Learning at the GTU

By Diandra Erickson, Director of Digital Learning

Diandra Erickson is the Director of Digital Learning at the GTU and provides online teaching services to all the member schools and affiliates within the consortium.  She earned her PhD from GTU in 2018 and subsequently moved into her current role leading digital initiatives.

At the GTU, she has found a role where her responsibilities are centered on what she loves. Her passion for education is unquestionable. Her devotion to enabling studies to extend beyond the classroom is definite. And her innovative approach is driving digital learning curricula at the GTU. We are happy to share this conversation with her.

Why is the GTU launching its first, fully online program now?

First, let me share that we are very excited to launch this program and that the GTU is taking this step. Our instructors are thrilled to teach in this format and we have effective technologies in place to successfully deliver the courses in this program.

As to why now...The major drivers are the current political and cultural environments that we are in. We are becoming more diverse every single day with individuals and communities engaging a wide variety of cultural beliefs and religious practices. As a result, many are interested in learning about more than one religion. This program provides a space for individuals to learn about different religious traditions and how these traditions intersect.

Additionally, many want to study at the GTU but cannot physically move to the BayArea. By providing a digital learning platform, we can connect with more individuals interested in GTU without them having to be on-campus in Berkeley.  Also, we really wanted to consider individuals who are interested in studying religion but may not choose to complete a MA or PhD.

How does the GTU simulate a live classroom environment for students?

Digital learning is designed to be flexible and we really took that into consideration as we built the platform. We aim to maintain the ‘humanness’ of the on-campus learning experience in a digital format. Conversations between faculty, students, and peers are not only text-based but include audio and video as well. Students and instructors can hear each other’s voices and see each other’s faces in both asynchronous and synchronous discussion formats. The ability to see and hear other classmates helps students build community with each other by helping them feel like they are a part of a group. 

Can you talk about faculty and student relationships within the topic of digital learning?

Faculty presence is crucial to not only delivering presentations and lectures, but fostering discussions and participating in the classroom interactions as well. Students can expect to have a strong faculty presence in their course and are encouraged to connect and reach out to them at any time. Also, instructors will have virtual office hours, where students can “drop in” if they have any questions. 

"Digital learning is designed to be flexible, and we really took that into consideration as we built the platform. We aim to maintain the ‘humanness’ of the on-campus learning experience in a digital format." 

Are librarians available to online students? How do you ensure students have access to all the resources available on-campus?

Yes, librarians are definitely available to online students, and they are happy to help. The GTU library website has a chat feature enabled, where students can connect with a reference librarian online if they have any questions about finding academic resources. Additionally, online students have access to all of our e-resources. We have a robust collection of religious materials that students can use in their studies and research.

Tell us about the new Interreligious Studies Certificate program.

This program is unique to the GTU.

We are surrounded by diverse and multicultural environments, whether that is in our neighborhoods or workplaces. Students participating in this program will learn tools and techniques to function in diverse work settings. The online courses give individuals the strategies they need to effectively interact and work with different types of people who have different beliefs or ways of living. This program can be helpful for working professionals in many different fields including healthcare, non-profits, the business sector and more. By understanding why someone believes the way they do, it becomes easier to connect with them on a personal and professional level.

Also, when learning about multiple religious traditions and the ways in which they connect and intersect each other, we can begin to understand ways to be more compassionate and empathetic to people who are different from ourselves. 

What can prospective students expect from the GTU online Interreligious Studies Certificate program?

This program contains five courses, each of which is focused on a particular religious tradition. Within each course, we have three components to deliver the material, which include an Instructor presentation, readings,and interaction and collaboration among students.

Pre-recorded instructor presentations utilize effective technological tools that produce informative and visually appealing lectures of high quality. For readings, this program encourages a manageable amount of resources each week in order to give students the time to closely read the materials and process the information.  Having this time to process, leads to better comprehension and discussion of the readings with fellow classmates. Student interaction is also key to feeling engaged and motivated in the virtual classroom, and students may be asked to work on assignments together or participate in activities in small groups in order to build community and trust. 

What’s next for Digital Learning at the GTU?

Our goal is to one day launch an online masters program where the entire program is delivered in a digital learning environment.

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