University of Missouri - Saint Louis

The Graduate School


An oral examination in defense of the dissertation for the degree

Doctor of Philosophy in Education

Michael Porterfield
M.ED. in Secondary Education, August, 2004, University of Missouri-St. Louis
M.Div., May, 2002, Aquinas Institute of Theology-St. Louis
B.A. in Business Communications, May, 1987, Maryville College-St. Louis

The Religious Formation of Graduate Ministry Students in an Online Wisdom Community



Online and hybrid programs are becoming more common place in higher education, especially in graduate theological education, but little research has been done in this area, especially online and hybrid theological programs. This study helps to add to this body of research. In graduate theological education there is a dynamic process of transformation that happens to individuals. In years past, this transformative paradigm could only have happened in a physical location, but now this process of deep reflection and communal interaction can be done in an online wisdom community. When one defines community by what people do together instead of being defined by physical location, online community can exist. This mixed method study used surveys of alumni and current students of a doctoral program in ministry using Dr. Alfred Rovai’s (2002) Classroom Community Scale to quantitatively measure their sense of community in a learning environment built on the “wisdom community” model. Results of the survey showed students and alumni connectedness in their high scores in the Classroom Community Scale; their self-assessed learning reveals their deep integration, transformation and formation into a community of preachers. A qualitative analysis was also performed on students’ online discussions during the program and their responses to open-ended survey questions on how they would define community and if they were able to transfer their formation and learning in their wisdom community as preachers to their ministry sites. The analysis showed how the online discussions and sharing of video recorded preaching enabled geographically distributed students to support one another in learning to prepare for and execute preaching more effectively. Surprisingly, alumni males scored higher than alumni females, in contrast to Rovai’s findings. Furthermore, the results unearthed two competing views of covenant statements, which are an important tool for this community. These competing views exposed stages in individual students’ communal development. Additionally, participants varied in their transfer of preaching practice and community formation into their ministry sites after the program. Implications of the findings for online and hybrid education in general and graduate theology in particular are discussed.


Date: December 6, 2012

Time: 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Place:201 Educational Administration Bldg.


Defense of Dissertation Committee


Joseph L. Polman, Ph.D. (Advisor)

Carl Hoagland, Ed.D.


E. Paulette Isaac-Savage, Ed.D.

Rev. Gregory Heille, D.Min