Providing leadership in Christian distance education through resources, community, and promotion

ACCESS 2015 Report

Click here for photos from the conference!

Executive Director’s Overview

Although it seems that each year’s conference tops the previous one(s), I can’t help but think that this conference was truly one of the best ever. We had two excellent plenary sessions as well as an outstanding keynote address. The workshop sessions were a great blend of application as well as theory, research, and scholarship. The discussions I heard were filled with exciting ideas for the future as well as solid application of what is being done in our member schools.

This year’s theme, Rediscovering our roots: Simple. Missional. Technological.set the tone for understanding the future of Christian distance education situated in what has been a part of the 44 years of ACCESS history. The geographical location for the conference, Lancaster Bible College, located in Amish country, provided a backdrop for asking questions such as “how do we remain true to our heritage without sacrificing the generations to come?” In a similar vein, some of us may be asking “How do we remain true to the mission of biblical or theological online education without avoiding missional drift as we pursue the latest technological advances?” Additionally, how do we maintain proper pedagogy as the foundation of solid teaching and learning in an online population? How do we situate our institutions, organizations, or churches that provide distance education within the larger purposes of the mission of God and the mission of the church? If the mission of God is to declare his salvation to the ends of the earth and edify His people so that they grow to full maturity in Christ, then how do we position our programs to accomplish those purposes? How do you understand what you are doing in online Christian education to be advancing the mission of the church?

In the 44 years that ACCESS has been in existence, we have been fortunate enough to hold on to and embrace our heritage while reaching out to newer constituencies. ACCESS is unique in many ways but in particular it is an association passionate about two things in particular: (1) the spiritual or Christian worldview of our programs and instruction and (2) some capacity of distance education. Better yet, ACCESS is missional. God’s mission has a twofold purpose: an outward purpose to declare God’s glory among the nations and an inward focus to edify God’s people so that they grow to full maturity in Christ. Both purposes are necessary because the outward witness to share the good news can only be sustained by witnesses who are growing in their faith.  What we do in our respective institutions should reflect that outward and inward trajectory of God’s mission. Walter Brugeggemann wrote that "every community that wants to last beyond a single generation must concern itself with education" (The Creative Word, p. 1). While the education Brueggemann had in mind was primarily parental and centered in the home, the kind of education that we provide to sustain the mission of the church comes in many formats and delivery systems. If we want to be missional in how we do distance or online education, we have to figure out ways to pass on what we have learned to the next generation of Christian online educators so that the mission of ACCESS and Christian online education doesn’t end with us.

My hope and expectation is that while the look and feel of ACCESS might continue to shift and change with current realities we won’t lose our distinctive as a leader in the field of Christian distance education. We may change how we conference together, we might think about alternatives to these gatherings, or we might consider new ways of delivering our content. But that should not change who we are now or who we are yet to become. I believe that good things are yet to come. However, it takes effort on the part of each of us to invite others to join ACCESS, to attend ACCESS conferences and webinars, and to be part of the larger conversation Christian distance education. As a community, we have the responsibility to share our resources with one another and to learn from one another. For most of us, our resources are somewhat “challenged” and if we’re going to set the pace for what it means to deliver quality theological education, we’re going to have to find new ways of collaborating  and establishing consortial models of education.

Thank you all for your support of the mission of ACCESS as it seeks to support the mission of God.

Conference Attendees

This year we had 35 attendees representing 25 different institutions or organizations. We had representation by administrators, faculty, instructional designers, and directors to name a few of the constituents. There were a number of first-timers as well as longstanding members.

One attendee said, “I’m going to lean on my Provost and Dean to attend next year. They have to hear this stuff!” Another member wrote to tell me, “[We have come a long way] and much has changed in distance education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Now, we're not only talking about online learning and blended learning, we're talking about mobile learning and this year the use of games. I wonder what we'll be talking about in another 13 years. Actually, I wonder what we'll be talking about next year or five years from now that we don't even have the technologies for today.”

We had two sponsors representing IOTA Solutions and BibleMesh. I would encourage you to check out their products as you continue looking for ways to improve your programs.

Course of the Year Award

The winners of COTY 2015:

  • Hybrid Category: Lancaster Bible College - Global Children & Family Ministry
  • Independent Category: Lancaster Bible College – Communicating Biblical Truth
  • Online Category: Moody Bible Institute – Action Research and Biblical Interpretation


We had 17 different workshop presentations led by ACCESS members and Lancaster Bible College’s faculty and staff. Some of the content from those sessions will be made available to our membership in the coming days by way of webinars. Additionally, we have provided links to the content of many sessions on our website. I’ve heard a number of attendees report that these were among the best sessions they’ve ever attended. Topics ranged from gamification to spiritual formation to international education. To see the list of sessions, click

Plenary sessions

In 2010 the US Department of Education proposed regulations that higher education institutions must obtain state authorization to legally offer distance or correspondence courses to students in a state in which it is not physically located, i.e. out-of-state students.  The Department's proposed regulation raised awareness among states about the variety and scope of out-of-state distance education programs and alerted them to the fact that they can legally make higher education institutions obtain authorization to teach the students who reside in their states.

Recently State Authorization and Reciprocity Agreements have been created to help institutions navigate the bureaucratic and financial web associated with gaining state authorization.  Julie Goetz, of Huntington University, led an excellent discussion of what various states/institutions are doing to stay legal for less. For more information, visit here.

Chris VanBuskirk and Michael Freeman, of Lancaster Bible College, showed us “under the hood” of those courses winning the COTY award. It was a great way for attendees to see what made those courses work well and for the course representatives to engage us in what went into course creation. For more information about the COTY course winners, visit our page.

Keynote speaker

Kirby Francis, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, challenged us with his excellent presentation Wednesday night. One attendee commented that “
I could literally leave today and say the ACCESS conference was WELL worth the money! The evening talk by Kirby Francis was a grand slam!” Kirby’s comments are available on our website and in text form. His topic was titled A Disruptive Gospel: Missional Perspectives in Christian Distance Education and he reminded us that “We can find the blessing of God as we focus back on the true nature of the work He has called us to do, and join Him in it. We can deepen our reach and accessibility by providing prospective students the programs they need, not the ones our business models were built to provide. And we can ensure our success if we serve the church, instead of trying to upstage it.” For more, click here.

Annual Business Meeting

Membership update:

·         2014-2015 – join/renew: 83 memberships

·         68 institutional memberships

·         15 individual memberships


  • President: Mindi Thompson, Abilene Christian University’s Graduate School of Theology
  • Vice President (filling an unexpired term): Alin Vrancila, Moody Bible Institute
  • Secretary: Katharine Harmon, Harding University
  • Treasurer: Kevin Mahaffy, Moody Bible Institute
  • Web Manager: Chris VanBuskirk, Lancaster Bible College

Special Report
We have continued work on shifting our web activity from web managing to membership management through our website. Moreover, our intended outcomes for web presence include:

  • Better membership management by our members
  • Increased community interaction among our members
  • Enhanced presence for both internal and external constituents
  • Enhanced resources provided for our members

We are hoping to do some new things with regard to ongoing course evaluations, culminating in our annual COTY award. It is hoped that we can provide assessment throughout the year on course development for member institutions. More information will be provided as we finalize these plans.

Additionally, we plan to offer a wide range of webinars throughout the year. It is our hope that you will encourage your entire institution, representing faculty, administrators, staff, and students, and alumni to fully participate in these webinars. We are beginning to see a shift in emphasis to an embedded model of online education rather than a stand-alone piece. As we more fully embrace a situated view of education, we want to involve more people in the process of understanding how online education fits into the mission and purpose of our institutions. We will provide more information as these webinars shape up.

P.O. Box 10253 Chicago, IL 60610

Phone   (864) 379-6669      Fax   (864) 379-3171     E-mail

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