Enrollment Increases in Office of Christian Formation's Internet Study

In 2001 the Diocese of Richmond became a "partner diocese" with both the University of Dayton and University of Notre Dame online theology programs.

This arrangement allows individuals to take advantage of substantial tuition discounts offered by both universities, plus diocesan leaders can participate in planning courses to be offered.

Few people took advantage of the online opportunity in the initial years, said Dennis Beeman, director of the diocesan Office of Christian Formation.

In the three years of 2001-2003 only 18 students completed 40 courses offered by Dayton. Last year in 2004 24 students, including 18 new students, completed 45 courses. Notre Dame participation increased at a similar rate.

Mr. Beeman recently attended the annual gathering of directors from partner dioceses at the University of Dayton.

"Every partner diocese is experiencing growth," he told The Catholic Virginian. "The online format is especially opportune for dioceses like Richmond, Raleigh and Charlotte and midwestern dioceses that cover large areas and have no Catholic college to provide educational opportunities."

The typical online course lasts five weeks and requires 4-6 hours per week of reading, posting answers to reflection questions, and writing brief papers. The content for the courses is either provided online and downloaded, or from a textbook, or both. Every student in the "virtual class" must post reflections online at least twice a week.

The five-week cycles of courses are offered six times per year. Courses are facilitated online by a Dayton staff person or professional ministers who have had training as facilitators from the University.

Both Notre Dame and Dayton courses are currently not for credit, but continuing education units (CEUs) are awarded by both universities. Both schools hope to have at least a few courses available for credit in coming years. Tuition for courses is $40 for Dayton vs. $80 for non-partner dioceses. Notre Dame offers a 20 percent discount on courses that range from $79 to $129.

"While we still prefer 'gathered' learning groups if possible, we know that people find it almost impossible to participate in a multi-week class because of geography or personal and work schedules," Mr. Beeman noted. "Students can go online at any time during the day to do their reading, post their reflections, and write their papers."

He announced that the diocese's Introduction to Theology (IT) program can now be completed online by taking the nine Dayton courses that correspond to the nine topics which make up the IT curriculum. The wide variety of courses offered will also help catechetical leaders and catechists comply with new catechetical norms that the diocese will publish in the summer of 2005. Dayton offers 10-15 courses per cycle, with a total of 29 different courses available at a basic, intermediate, and advanced level.