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Translating Religion Courses to an Online Format: Introduction - The Limits of Translation PDF-NOTE: Internet Explorer Users, right click the PDF Icon and choose [save target as] if you are experiencing problems with clicking. Print

Of course some things simply can’t be translated. A number of authors mention the difficulty of testing online, while others mention problems with brainstorming or other forms of group work. While there can be solutions — it is possible to secure proctored locations for tests, and Selvidge in particular notes her success with group work online — certain activities either need to be replaced or else dealt with early on.

Many of the challenges of online education can be surmounted by simply leaving some elements untranslated. Strong champions the hybrid format. This does sacrifice some of the convenience for students, but it maintains much of the flexibility of online formats while also allowing for some of the best in-class practices to be kept. Indeed, he contends that doing part of our teaching online can help with the in-classroom education. And this, in turn, echoes a point made by several contributors: namely, the translation to online education need not entail a concomitant translation from active to passive voice — at least, not if the translation is effected with the requisite imagination and, critically, institutional flexibility, as underscored by Blazer and Denison.

Testing for knowledge online is problematic when answers are a click away, but this new reality also invites us to ponder traditional education. For our face-to-face students information is also a click away. Arft explains that we need to apply lessons about the technological age to the whole purpose of education and consider new technologies not only for teaching and learning, but also scholarship. Andrus, too, notes the relationship between online and face-to-face learning, but in a different way. She has brought her experiences from her online classes back to her traditional classroom formats. Here, the clarity, intentionality, and uses of technology have all improved the face-to-face version of her course. As with languages or religions, learning another one can often help us better understand our own.

Some people make the assumption that a translation can never be as good as the original. This issue of Spotlight suggests that such a comparison may, ultimately, miss the most important point. Online education will not be the same as traditional instruction, and there will always be stumbling blocks. But it may also have the potential to exceed the limits of the traditional classroom in important ways. Even in language translation, sometimes one finds that one can do certain things in the new language that could not be done in the original. Both Selvidge and Gravett discuss the possibility of bringing international sites and cultures directly to the online classroom, and Baumann raises the opportunity of having students from across the country work together. Selvidge also points out the safety factor in online education, as conversations about religion can be heated and violence on our campuses is becoming all too familiar.

In the end, every translation is unique, and that of course is based on the translator. Strong reminds us that not all teaching styles work for each faculty member, noting that “we all teach through our personalities.” Each of us needs to find ways to make such teaching styles our own. Hopefully this issue of Spotlight on Teaching can help us reach that goal. While the consensus shows us some of the institutional forces at work behind online education, the varied suggestions in this issue may provide us with the flexibility to put our personal stamp on our online courses.


This website contains archived issues of Religious Studies News published online from March 2010 to May 2013, and PDF versions of print editions published from Winter 2001 to October 2009.

This site also contains archived issues of Spotlight on Teaching (May 1999 to May 2013) and Spotlight on Theological Education (March 2007 to March 2013).

For current issues of RSN, beginning with the October 2013 issue, please see here.