Jul 21, 2014

A milestone in distance learning

With Yepci, Laura Restrepo, Charli, Yenny Gamboa and Pastor Abel Garcia

On June 21, 2014, Luz Maria and I traveled to Barquisimeto and, together with Pastor Abel Garcia, director of the Juan de Frias Theological Institute and representatives of member congregations of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela, began a course in the use of Moodle, the world's premier on-line learning platform.

Moodle is an acronym for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. It is open-source software first developed in 2002 by Martin Dougiamas, a computer scientist at Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia.

As of June 2013 Moodle had a user base of 83,008 registered and verified sites, serving 70,696,570 users in 7.5+ million courses with 1.2+ million teachers. Moodle is used by Concordia Seminary, St. Louis: Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta, among many other seminaries throughout the world.

Luz Maria and Yepci. Miguelángel Pérez and Abel Garcia at their computer screens.
We just had to meet in Barquisimeto once. The rest  of the coursework has been done on-line. Our meeting place was la Universidad Centrooccidental "Lisandro Alvarado" (UCLA, but not the UCLA in California). Established in 1962, the university specializes in the teaching of human and veterinary medicine, and agronomy. We had the opportunity to receive instruction thanks to Laura Restrepo, a member of the university's faculty and El Paraiso Lutheran Church in Barquisimeto (if you are familiar with Latin American literature, you may know there is a well-known Colombian author and journalist named Laura Restrepo. This is not that Laura Restrepo).

In addition to Pastor Abel, Luz Maria, Laura Restrepo and myself, our group included:
  • Pastor Miguelángel Pérez and Zugeimar Aranguren of El Paraiso Lutheran Church, Barquisimeto.
  • Yenny Gamboa, Juan Carlos and Luis Miguel Silva of La Fortaleza Lutheran Church in Maracay.
  • Obed Coronado of Fuente de Vida Lutheran Church in Puerto Ordaz.
  • Lino Zerpa of La Ascensión Lutheran Church in San Felix de Guayana.
  • Luz Maria's daughters, Yepci and Charli Santana.

By the end of the five-week course, we all should be certified to teach on-line courses with Moodle. The adoption of this system will be a milestone for the Juan de Frias Theological Institute.

The Juan de Frias program of theological education by extension has been a great benefit to the Lutheran Church of Venezuela in the absence of a residential seminary for preparing men for Word and sacrament ministry. A residential seminary is certainly the ideal, but the ILV has not had the resources to establish one so far. 

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod once sent missionaries to serve as the theological educators for this program. For years before the explosion of Internet access, they would travel to each of the ILV's widely scattered congregations, training pastors and catechising the laity. Pastor Ted Krey, who now is LCMS regional director of Latin American missions, was the last of these theological educators. Since Pastor Krey left in 2010, the ILV has faced mounting difficulties in maintaining the theological education by extension program. This has been in part because the state of the Venezuelan economy has made it hard for the ILV to find the funds, in part because political unrest and a rising tide of violence has made travel more and more of a risk. God willing, the increased use of the Internet for distance learning will help the Lutheran Church of Venezuela to overcome these difficulties.

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