This past semester marked the end of my coursework for the MA in Theology program at Holy Apostles. It was, quite naturally, bittersweet. There is great joy in completing an endeavor, but I will also miss the experience and the online dialogues with professors and classmates. As much as the virtual classroom cannot be a true substitute for a real one, when it comes to philosophy and theology, the text-only medium actually lends itself very well to the communication of theological and philosophical ideas.

Where in-person interaction is inherently more natural, spontaneous, and fast-paced, the online classroom allows for students to receive the words of a counterpart, to re-read them, to digest them, and to measure one’s own words in reply. Anyone who has ever read the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas immediately understands the benefit this offers.

However, many consider the text-only medium to suffer from its inherent limitations. No tone exists on screen or paper, and there is no body language or facial expression to accompany one’s words. But I encourage all of you who are either entertaining the thought of an online program in theology or philosophy, or have already started down that path, to set aside your reservations and appreciate the medium for what it is.

To do this, you must remember three things:

First, write what you mean, and mean what you write. You are not in a classroom with people from your hometown. Holy Apostles College & Seminary’s online programs include students from all over the United States and many foreign countries. What is colloquial to you might be perfectly confusing to your classmate. To communicate effectively with an audience this broad, you must be forthright. Fortunately, typing out your thoughts gives you time for reflection and revision, and you need not be concerned with anything but the words.

Second, write charitably. Now, this does not mean that you should candy-coat and dress up every line you write. In fact, doing so will inevitably lead to miscommunication–doing so violates rule #1. Rather, writing charitably consists of addressing classmates by name, not stating ideas in too strong of terms, being a little self-deprecating at times, etc. Ultimately, it is to display humility without sacrificing confidence. This is the greatest challenge, but again, text-only will serve you well, if you let it.

Thirdly, read charitably. Above all, read charitably! You will have classmates who, unfortunately, have poor communication skills. They may use idioms or colloquialisms frequently and incorrectly; they might write assuming that there’s a clear tone to their words. You will be at the receiving end of all sorts of nonsense. Do not fret; all will be well, so long as you read charitably. This means verifying any and all negative suspicions you have before addressing them. It means assuming that even curt remarks came with the best of intentions–the truth is, they probably did. To read charitably is to exhibit patience and kindness in every exchange.

If you take these words to heart and embrace the written word for its simple clarity, you will be prepared to enter the virtual classroom. And you will not find better virtual classrooms than those provided by Holy Apostles College & Seminary.

The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.