by Carol McQueen
Religion PhD student John Bilodeau will only see some of his
classmates in the compulsory 890 seminar, The Study of Religion: Theory
and Practice, four or five times during the year when they can all come
together in one location.
However, he will interact with them online several times a week, through
a Web CT system that enables users to post messages, enter discussion
groups and chat with each other. Bilodeau is one of six Concordia students
in a joint seminar, and one of 32 PhD students in religion at Concordia.
All 32 are taking part in a joint PhD program that combines the scholarship
and expertise of Concordia University, UQAM and Université Laval
in Quebec City.
Part of this joint venture is that all PhD students take a joint
course which is interactive between the three universities, said
Religion Professor Lynda Clarke, who is one of the animators of the 890
To make the collaboration more like collaboration, and also to solve
the problem of geographic distance, we rely on a Web CT site, she
Effective and user-friendly
Its a virtual classroom, explained Roger Kenner, coordinator
of research and development for IITS, who designed the site to make it
as effective and as user-friendly as possible. Each of the universities
posts their syllabus and reading materials in their preferred language,
and then students from all three campuses are free to converse on the
course topics, their own research or on a number of thematic threads outlined
in the discussion fields.
So far, Bilodeau is pleased with the results. He is working on secrecy
in religious conflict, looking particularly at heretics and inquisitors
in medieval Languedoc (France). His interactions with francophones from
the other universities have been particularly helpful to his research.
Its useful to me to have native French speakers who are familiar
with some of the texts help me out, he said. It has also been beneficial
to be forced to post his own work and ideas on the Web site.
Sometimes its good to be forced to answer a lot of questions
and be clear about what you are studying. If its all just in your
head if youre working on it all by yourself you dont
really get a sense of what exactly people will be interested in, whats
going to confuse them, what you have to clarify.
Bilodeau says he logs on to the Web site at least twice a week, and engages
actively in several of the discussion groups.
Leslie Orr, chair of the Religion Department, believes that the 890 course,
with its Web-based interaction, is the centrepiece of the joint PhD program,
which initially consisted of Concordia and UQAM, but incorporated Laval
at the start of 2002.
The joint program really opens up for each university a range of
different kinds of scholarship, she said, and it enlarges
the pool and the diversity. Orr added that the 890 seminar gives
our students the opportunity to see all kinds of different approaches
and perspectives, both from their fellow students as well as from their
professors in the different departments.
The Web site facilitates this communication between students and professors
from different universities. Someone at UQAM is working on raves,
said Professor Clarke, and he posted a comment about trance and
dance. I thought he might like to look at some Sufi material, so I answered
in that theme. If he wants to have any more discussion, he can.
Overcoming language barriers is another positive result of the 890 seminar.
Students assimilate the appropriate religious terminology in their non-mother
tongue, and learn to express their scholarly ideas in both English and
French, which is an essential skill within the Canadian academic community.
Orr said, By the time students come together in person in the second
term, were hopeful that they will have already acquired certain
vocabulary through their contact and interchanges on the Web site.