Faculty-Directed Learning in a New Paradigm

October 27, 2014

For the past three weeks, we have looked at various components of theological education that might need to be addressed if we create a new paradigm of theological education.

Today, we are going to discuss the role of faculty in a new paradigm.  Specifically, we’ll look at how faculty might direct student learning and maintain academic oversight in a system of theological education is focused more on outcome-based courses than it is on traditional courses.

Faculty-directed learning is an important aspect of accredited theological education, as is the faculty’s role in academic oversight.  It brings value, accountability, resources, community, and much more.  In a traditional model of theological education, the primary means of faculty-directed learning is classroom instruction.  Academic oversight occurs mostly in the committee structure of the faculty.  How do we extend the value of faculty-directed learning beyond the classroom and even beyond the online classroom?

In the Kairos Project at Sioux Falls Seminary, we integrate the value of faculty-directed learning into the life and ministry of students through a mentor model of education.  First, the faculty, in conversation with ministry leaders, creates a set of integrated outcomes to which students are held accountable in our various degree programs.  The outcomes extend into the three spheres of one’s development for ministry – Knowledge, Character, and Competency.  Then, we work to define outcome-based courses and assessments that are fully integrated into the life and ministry of a student.  In so doing, faculty-directed learning occurs in each sphere of ministry development rather than being relegated to the knowledge sphere.  But how do we get a well-rounded picture of a student?

Each student has a team of three mentors – a faculty mentor, a ministry mentor, and a personal mentor.  Each member of the team walks alongside the student during his or her journey.  The faculty mentor interacts with the student in multiple ways and serves as a resource, guide, educator, listener, advisor, and servant.  In this model, faculty-directed learning moves outside of a traditional or even online classroom and into the life and ministry of a student.

Such a model requires much of a student and much of a faculty member.  The student needs to be open to input and direction from mentors.  The traditional model, faculty input and direction only occur in the classroom.  If learning occurs outside a traditional classroom, then input will occur outside the classroom as well.  This will be a shift for students.  Suddenly the faculty mentor is involved in a student’s life and ministry in an intimate way.  The Kairos Project requires significantly more of the student.

At the same time, a faculty mentor will need to expand his or her view beyond traditional disciplines and beyond his or her individual discipline.  This will be a shift for faculty.  Suddenly a faculty member is asked to bring value and input to areas beyond the courses they have traditionally taught.  In order to do this well, faculty will need to be cross-disciplinary and to actively pursue feedback from his or her peers. In addition, the faculty mentor’s input will be supported and sharpened by others on the mentor team thereby broadening and deepening the value added by faculty.

Faculty have much to offer those whom God has called to engage in theological education.  However, if we merely change the paradigm of theological education without giving significant thought to how faculty will continue to bring value, we will miss an important opportunity.

I am excited about the faculty we have at Sioux Falls Seminary and their desire to engage in this new paradigm of theological education.  In many ways, our faculty already model the cross-disciplinary nature of this new paradigm.  Faculty mentors are meeting with students, providing input, and listening in new and spectacular ways.  It is great to see how God works through relationships.

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