From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Educator compares students' learning to channel surfing

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Wed, 5 Dec 2001 14:48:18 -0600

Dec. 5, 2001 News media contact: Linda Green7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.

By Hendrik R. Pieterse*

DENVER (UMNS) - Comparing students to television sets, a seminary instructor
says people normally learn from the station that puts out the strongest
signal, but they learn best when the reception comes from a variety of

The Rev. Kathleen A. Farmer, a United Methodist and professor of Old
Testament at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, drew the
comparison during the annual banquet of the Dempster Scholars Program in

The Dempster banquet features past recipients of the scholarship, a
47-year-old fellowship named for John Dempster, a 19th-century Methodist
preacher who helped establish three denominationally related seminaries.

Farmer, a 1974 fellowship recipient, said students and knowledge seekers are
like television sets, capable of receiving information from several
channels. However, for most learners, one "channel" gets stronger
"reception" than others, she said. 

"I have concluded that many students heading into ministry do not get very
good reception on our traditional reading-lecture-discussion channels of
instruction," Farmer said, reflecting on her 24 years as a seminary

"I would argue that really effective thinking requires the use of both sides
of the human mind. The best learning takes place when we get good
'reception' on more than one 'channel,'" she said.

With "Using Multimedia in Theological Education" as the theme of her
address, she introduced the term "dual coding" to indicate the simultaneous
presentation of information through both verbal and visual channels. Dual
coding, the use of both words and images, is a proven method for increasing
the comprehension and retention of information, Farmer said.  

Farmer had sought audiovisual and multimedia resources for teaching students
to become interpreters of biblical text, but she said she found only a few.
That prompted her to apply for two "Teaching and Learning in Theological
Education" grants from the Association of Theological Schools, which she
received in 1997 and 1998. The grants provided seed money for developing a
series of multimedia modules for use in Old Testament seminary classes

Working with a digital designer, a cartoonist and two seminary students,
Farmer produced a series of digital multimedia modules in which images (such
as illustrations, photos, animated graphics and cartoons) are accompanied by
oral narration, music and a small amount of text.

A committee created the annual banquet in 1998 to raise a permanent
endowment for the scholarship program. Since 1954, doctoral candidates
preparing for careers in theological education have received the Dempster
Graduate Fellowships from the United Methodist Church.

During the banquet, the Rev. Thomas E. Frank, Dempster endowment committee
chairperson from Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, spoke of the great
heritage of continuity and change that marks the Dempster scholars program. 

He shared information about the endowment campaign and urged those attending
the banquet to contribute to the endowment fund.
"By contributing to the endowment, you show both your solidarity with the
program and your broad interest in securing the future of Dempster
scholars," Frank said.

The awards, at $10,000 for a single recipient and $11,000 for a married
recipient, are the largest offered by a Protestant denomination, according
to the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville,

The scholarships have helped graduate students move toward careers in
theological education for the past four decades and represent the United
Methodist Church's strong commitment to excellence in theological education,
both in the United States and around the world, said the Rev. Robert F.
Kohler, a staff executive in the board's Division of Ordained Ministry.

The fellowships are among the most important academic awards in the nation
and are "a significant commitment to future United Methodist biblical and
theological scholarship," he said.

Recipients are chosen for intellectual competence, academic achievement,
promise of usefulness in teaching careers, personal qualities, and clarity
of spiritual purpose and commitment. For more information, contact the
Section of Elders and Local Pastors, Board of Higher Education and Ministry,
P.O. Box 340007, Nashville, TN 37203-0007; telephone: (615) 340-7375;
e-mail:; or visit online.
# # #
*Pieterse is editor of Quarterly Review, a journal of theological resources
for ministry in Nashville, Tenn.

United Methodist News Service
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