Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of Date
It sure beats commuting
Student lives in Latvia, but she hasn't missed a class at Newman College
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
First there's the dial tone. Then the rhythmic beeping of each number.
Finally, the Internet connecting buzz . . . you know, the one that sounds like a cross between a cappuccino machine and a broken doorbell.
This is how Inga Mjartane enters her classroom. Not through a doorway, but through a phone line.
Mjartane is one of 12 students in Jo-Ann Badley's Jesus and Gospel class, an undergraduate course offered by Newman Theological College. But it's not offered in a classroom. It's not even on campus. You can only access it from a computer screen.
"I was interested in studying theology, especially at Newman College when I found out about it. . . . I was eager to have such an opportunity," said Mjartane, 20, of Newman's Internet course.
But unlike some other students in the class, it's more than family and work commitments that keep Mjartane from the traditional classroom environment.
For her, it's a matter of commuting.
"I was born in Riga (Latvia) and I still live in Riga," Mjartane said. "This is a good way for me to study from here."
At this point, it's probably the only way for her to attend Newman.
The college has been offering one online theology course per semester since 1997. Most students are in Western Canada, a few from the United States, but Mjartane is as foreign a student as the college has registered for the Internet courses.
"I still prefer face-to-face classroom interaction, but the primary advantage of the Internet is that students like (Mjartane) can study," Badley said.
"Certainly not all the students are as geographically distant as Inga, but all of them have time, family and community commitments which make study at Newman difficult, if not impossible."
Few can debate that the Internet is not a useful, inexpensive and efficient medium of communication. Mjartane hopes to complete some of the required courses for a diploma in theological studies via the Net. She is also befriending people in her class, whom she e-mails frequently and would not have otherwise met.
This story was written from questions and answers provided through e-mail.
"I have been using the computer at least five years," Majartane said. "But online (e-mail) I have only been on one year and as an Internet user, only about three months.
"It's something very useful to me. Without it, I could never be in (Badley's) class."
Mjartane was introduced to Newman and the course by Sister Teresita Kambeitz, who also teaches at the college. The two met in 1997 when Kambeitz visited Latvia.
The course looks at three Gospels - Matthew, Mark and Luke - commonly called the synoptic Gospels.
Badley has the lectures or modules, as they are called, posted every Monday. Students in the class access the modules at their convenience and have a week to complete the readings and assignments using the website and links included in the modules and course textbook.
Mjartane usually checks her readings and assignments in the evenings after she comes home from her job as a receptionist.
"Students need a lot of discipline (for this type of class)," Badley said. "Especially since most of them are also working and involved with family and parishes. My experience has been that you get very motivated and involved people signing up for the course. Inga is an example, but I would speak similarly of the other students."
Mjartane understands the need for such discipline. She considers this a stepping stone to further theological studies.
"I think theology studies is something right for me," Mjartane said.
An online course is probably the only way Mjaratane's world could coincide with Badley's, given the thousands of miles between them.
"I like the novelty of a new approach to learning, there is a certain challenge in learning to do new things well," Badley said. "I also like the idea of being able to encourage learning for people who would not otherwise be able to study."
But Badley also sees a downside to this type of course. She said it prevents students from accessing the campus' library and other resources which could benefit their studies.
"I also don't like how much grading there is," Badley said. "I have not found a way to structure Internet learning so that the grading aspect is not overwhelming."
The downsides are few for Mjartane who anticipates her next theology class even before completing Badley's final exam. The only thing she misses out on is the social aspect of the classroom environment.
"I would like to meet (Badley) and my classmates one day," Mjartane said. "I have (e-mailed) them a lot, it would be nice to meet them one day."
Not only is Mjartane thankful for the opportunity to study abroad and not leave the comfort of home, she also feels fortunate to study at a college whose $345 tuition per course would be considered hefty for most Latvian pocketbooks.
Mjartane estimates tuition fees for a year at a Latvian university at just over $1,000. This includes 16-20 courses, so it works out to about $50 a course. "I think in Latvia this Internet course would be considered as expensive," she said.
Mjartane's tuition and Internet time was subsidized by the Latvian Catholic Community in Toronto. She estimates her Net service averages more than $40 a month.