by Edwin Brainerd
A group of seminary students came from the U.S. to study firsthand theological education by extension (TEE) in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Those of us who were working in TEE were assigned various topics; mine was stated in two words: “Programmed Instruction.”
A group of seminary students came from the U.S. to study firsthand theological education by extension (TEE) in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Those of us who were working in TEE were assigned various topics; mine was stated in two words: "Programmed Instruction."
However, had I developed this topic as expected, I would only have perpetuated what I choose to call the "myth" of programmed instruction in theological education by extension. I call it a myth because it does not agree with the actual development of the TEE movement.
As Harold Alexander, reviewing An Extension Seminary Primer (Ralph B. Covell and C. Peter Wagner, William Carey Library, 1971) for Evangelical Missions Quarterly, wrote:
From the time of the Wheaton workshop, in December, 1968, there has been a very strong tendency to make theological education by extension and programmed instruction synonymous. Coven and Wagner continue in this tradition. It is misleading for several reasons. First, it does not jibe with historical reality. Even now after two or three years of strong propagandizing in this direction, few truly programmed texts have been produced (Summer, 1972, p. 244).
If it is a myth that programmed instruction is widely used in theological education by extension, how did this myth develop and what sustains it? Basically, there are two reasons.
THE EARLY IDEAL
First, from the earliest days of the movement, the ideal has been to have programmed texts. In 1967, a workshop entitled, "The Extension Seminary and the Programmed Textbook," was held in Armenia, Colombia. This was described by Dr. Ralph D. Winter as "a promising combination of two novel ingredients, extension education and a new kind of textbook."1 Out of this workshop came CLATT (Comite’ Latinoamericano de Textos Teologicos) and CATA (Comity Asesor de Textos Autodidactivos). These committees formed to produce the 15 basic programmed texts for Spanish-speaking Latin America.
In 1968, a similar conference was held in Bolivia with Peter Savage lecturing on programmed texts. Then in December of the same year, in the Wheaton workshop, the marriage between programmed instruction and TEE was formalized, more by the presence of Dr. Ted Ward than by his contribution, because while he presented the advantages of programmed instruction, he did not favor the marriage. In fact, he presented the hypothesis that "programmed texts cannot be written in a second language,"2 and postulated a lengthy, involved training program for would-be programmers.3 But, as was evident in the question and answer sessions that followed, these comments went unheeded.
Dr. Ward evidently felt, if you can’t stop them, help them, and in 1970, published his "how-to" book, Programmed Instruction for Theological Education by Extension (CAMEO, 1970).
Thus from the beginning, both in the workshops and in the literature produced, programmed instruction has been presented, if not as the only way to insure cognitive input in theological education by extension, at least as the ideal.
In the Wheaton workshop (1968), Peter Wagner presented a time chart for the production of the programmed intertexts. He estimated that it would take between one and a half to three years to produce each text, after having found the author,4 and most of the authors had already been found.` However, in the Primer, published three years later, in 1971, he admits that only one intertext had been published and this was in a preliminary form.6
Yet everyone assumes that a plan presented in at least two books will be completed. So today, people outside of TEE assume the existence and the usage of good programmed textbooks, while people within the movement continue struggling to produce their own materials.
A second reason that the myth of programmed instruction in theological education by extension continues is the presence of what might best be called the let’s-get-on-the-band-wagon mentality.
In addition to the marriage of programmed instruction with theological education by extension, two general tendencies in the Wheaton workshop 1968) bothered me. First, every program that was being carried on outside the walls of an existing resident institute was called an extension seminary. Programs had not been changed, they had merely been renamed. Secondly, anything mimeographed for homework was called programmed instruction. It seemed to me that a new definition of programmed textbooks was covertly adopted: Any workbook with an answer sheet.
Wagner has helped to perpetuate this myth by doing just that, by calling workbooks programmed instruction. In the Wheaton workshop it was asked:
Question: Would you start an extension program if you had only four to six courses of programmed texts, or would you have to wait until you got all 15 programmed texts?
Wagner: I think this again depends on the urgency of the situation….One thing that got all these 15 Books produced in Guatemala was because they were teaching these courses and every new course came up and they had to produce the books to get them out (italics mine).7
The impression is given here that the early 15 texts from Guatemala were programmed.
Three years later he wrote:
By now it has become clear that programmed materials are even more than a cog in the wheel of the extension seminary, they are really the bearings that keep the whole machine running smoothly. Furthermore, preparing the programmed materials is by far the most difficult aspect of extension theological education.
The faculty of the Presbyterian Seminary in Guatemala deserve heroes’ medals for accomplishing the gargantuan task of preparing a whole curriculum of materials for their seminary between the years of 1962 and 1968. As they tell it now, those years of preparing the lessons week after week, living under the shadow of relentless, mind-crushing deadlines, writing and mimeographing programmed materials the whole night to be ready to travel to the centers the next day, were the most difficult of their ministries from the standpoint of sheer labor (italics mine).8
Since I find it extremely difficult to believe that Wagner has never looked at the early Guatemalan materials, I must conclude that he is calling any mimeographed homework programmed materials, because it is very obvious to anyone who has glanced at their early material that it was not programmed. It didn’t even have answer sheets!
I agree wholeheartedly that those men deserve heroes’ medals for all the work they did in those years, also for being willing to chart new ground for all of us, but this does not mean that we should call their early products programmed texts. This may make history conform with the ideal, but not with reality.
NO WIDESPREAD USE
The reality is that although programmed instruction has been and perhaps still is the ideal, it his not had any widespread use in the extension seminary programs in Latin America. The lack of trained programmers in theological education, the fact that the authors of the proposed texts have undoubtedly found the task more difficult than anyone imagined, and the demand that the work go forward anyway have all contributed to this.
So what? Is it worth the time end effort to demythologize? I think it is. I have three reasons for doing it.
First, if I am entirely wrong, if there are truly programmed materials available in Spanish, I would like to know about them. I’d like to hear a progress report from the intertext project.
Second, since the myth is being perpetuated by men who have not been involved in the actual programs for a number of years, I hope that those who are involved will begin to share with us both their successes and their failures. I suspect that their experience has been somewhat like mine. I compare what I am doing with the literature on TEE and fall far short of the ideal. So I hide my failures and fail to discuss my apparently unique problems. Let’s honestly and openly tell it like it really is now. Third, there is a wealth of good books available in Spanish. Our workers at every level need to become aware of them and need to be trained to use them. I’m not sure that a fully programmed curriculum is the ideal. I would rather see an idea mentioned by Dr. Ted Ward developed. He wrote:
When programmed instruction is used in conjunction with a standard textbook, it is strongly suggested that the programmed instruction ire selfcontained, dealing with the most important points of the textbook’s chapter and designed to make the learner a more understanding reader of the chapter.9
To me, the ideal is programmed introductions to standard textbooks, so that each worker indeed learns to study on his own.
1. Ralph D. Winter, ed., Theological Education by Extension (South Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1969), p. 151.
2. Ibid., p. 315.
3. Ibid., p. 319.
4. Ibid., p. 294.
5. Ibid., p. 293.
6. Ralph B. Covell and C. Peter Wagner, An Extension Seminary Primer (South Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1971), p. 115.
7. Winter, op. cit., pp. 366, 367.
8. Covell and Wagner, op. cit., p. 110.
9. Ted Ward, Programmed Instruction for Theological Education by Extension (CAMEO, 1970), p. 7.
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