By Sarah Mac Donald - 02 May, 2017
Church Support Group and BBI – The Australian Institute of Theological Education have announced a formal partnership which will see the Sydney-based BBI and the Bray-based communications and technology services company offer high quality distance theological education online in Ireland and the UK.
The partnership between Church Support Group, which is the umbrella company for Church Services TV, CatholicIreland.net, Church Telecom and www.staffroom.ie and BBI will facilitate the promotion and distribution of high quality faith education and formation content to parishes, schools and individuals in Ireland, Britain and beyond.
The announcement was made by Dr Gerard Goldman, CEO of BBI and Tony Bolger, CEO of Church Support Group.
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Dr Goldman said he was very pleased to be entering into partnership with Church Support Group.
BBI is a specialist online provider of theology and is recognised by the Commonwealth Government of Australia as a Higher Education Provider (HEP), which means the Institute’s courses are benchmarked with other providers of Higher Education degrees in Australia.
It offers Graduate Certificates and Graduate Diplomas up to Master’s level in Theological Studies, Leadership & Theology, and Religious Education, as well as Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma awards for Governance & Canon Law.
In recent years, the BBI entered into partnership with the University of Saint Paul, Ottawa in Canada, to offer a Licentiate in Canon Law through a combination of online and residential courses at the BBI in Sydney, thus enabling more lay people to study for this degree and without having to leave Australia.
Since 2009, the BBI has been hosting international eConferences in partnership with the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which have on occasion attracted audiences from over 30 countries.
The conferences, of which there have now been 13, are streamed live and for free over the internet.
“In 2009, we had every diocese in Australia – 28 dioceses – and all of New Zealand logged on as well as another 10–12 countries. We had around 50,000 people; it was the largest adult faith event, apart from World Youth Day, in Australian history,” Dr Goldman explained.
He told CatholicIreland.net, “One of the things that is critical to BBI is making the richness of theology available to people at all levels, not just to postgraduates.”
The eConferences use adult learning methodology of 20-minute lectures, which are geared towards the so-called average person who is trying to understand something about theology, scripture, the Church or the world.
“We’ve done these over the years with leading Australian scholars and at times leading international scholars who have able to be part of the conference from Australia.”
After hosting 13 such conferences, the BBI has built up a body of material and some “wonderful learning experiences”.
Each of the conferences contains up to five 20-minute lectures and a question and answer session of between 45 and 60 minutes, in which the panel of speakers respond to questions sent in by participants from around the world.
The eConferences have covered areas such as St Paul, the Year of Mercy and all the Gospels, as well as violence and the Abrahamic faiths. They are structured so as to be suitable to parish groups, with time allowed for discussions.
Of the collaboration with Church Services Group, Dr Goldman, who holds two doctorates, explained that due to CSG’s vision for high quality parish TV, these eConferences could be transformed into DVDs and made available to CSG’s parish TV network.
He said parishes could thus access an important library of adult faith education.
“We have got this wonderful material which we know is suitable for the average person, although we also have university students using the material too because the quality of the lectures is so good.”
Parishes and the average person in the pew, from the 80-year-old grandmother to the university student, will be able to learn together from the content at the same time as CSG will move the DVD content to a live TV timetable for parishes.
Dr Gerard Goldman is hoping that some of those viewing the material may be spurred to consider the Australian online provider’s other courses.
“We’ve got beautiful quality material that we are very happy to share with the northern hemisphere. We hope to be able to support people across the globe who want to be nourished on good theology and scripture through CSG’s parish TV. If it sparks an interest in studying with us – that’s even better. This is where we see real synergy between Church Support Group and BBI.”
While students who study online with BBI come from all over the world, a large number of those taking the BBI courses are involved in Catholic schools.
In Australia, about 20 per cent of second level students attend Catholic schools. “Outside the state system, that’s the largest independent education sector in Australia. One in five parents choose to send their children to a Catholic school.”
According to Dr Goldman, the formation and the ongoing accreditation needs of school teachers is critical – and the Church takes it very seriously that school teachers and anyone in leadership roles will be theologically and biblically literate.
He believes Church Support Group’s online resource www.staffroom.ie could be a great service to the Catholic school sector in Ireland which may be looking for other forms of formation.
He stresses that the collaboration between CSG and the BBI is not competing with places where people can access face-to-face education.
“If they can access that – that is fantastic. But in my country, over 50 per cent of our students come from our capital city. What does that mean? It means people don’t have the time to travel to evening lectures – they are too stressed to barge through an hour-and-a-half of traffic to get to a night class. They would prefer to be at home, have a meal with their family and then log in after the kids are gone to bed.
“People are incredibly busy holding down jobs and family commitments. I am hoping that this online facility could be of benefit to people in Ireland and that they will be able to use this in a way that works for them – that is my hope,” Dr Goldman said.