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The Road Ahead: Re-Thinking Theological Education

June 20, 2016

As Sioux Falls Seminary “equips God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12), we are committed to re-thinking theological education.  But we’re not doing it alone.  This year we teamed up with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) as part of their Educational Models and Practices Peer Group Forum, working specifically with the Competency-Based Education (CBE) peer group.  It is becoming clear that Sioux Falls Seminary will play an important role as we collaborate with other schools to chart avenues for the road ahead.

The Educational Models and Practices Forum was a conference organized by ATS to address a range of creative development emerging within seminaries.  Over two days in February, presenters shared valuable history, data, and visions for the future.  Perhaps most importantly, the conference was the kickoff for “peer groups.”  The groups are committed to conducting comprehensive studies of educational program developments in ATS schools.  New models are already underway in myriad areas, from online degrees to accelerated Bachelor’s/MDivs to theological programs in prisons.

Sioux Falls Seminary was excited to be placed in the Competency-based Education peer group.  CBE is education oriented to learning outcomes, starting with professional competencies in mind and getting students to work toward them in flexible ways.  CBE emphasizes actual proficiency over seat-time or credit hours. Typically students follow a well-planned curriculum, proceeding at their own pace.  CBE methods often look quite different than traditional patterns.  While certain universities have been experimenting with CBE for decades, only in the last few years have theological schools begun entertaining this mode.  Sioux Falls Seminary is one of very few seminaries to have made significant inroads into CBE, implementing creative structures in Kairos Project as well as pass/fail courses with integrated assessment measures in our traditional tracks.

In the months ahead the Competency-Based Education peer group will be looking to three Sioux Falls Seminary persons for leadership.  President Greg Henson is heading up the Collaborative Opportunities Working Group, which will explore possibilities for shared goals and resources.  Dr. Larry Caldwell is overseeing the Global Opportunities Working Group, which will examine the potential of CBE for international applications.  And Dr. Nathan Hitchcock is spearheading the Assessment Practices Working Group, which will map out new methods of assessment for students and programs in the CBE paradigm.

Altogether, what this means is that Sioux Falls Seminary is being recognized as part of the leading edge of new models in theological education.  It has been encouraging to have leaders from the United States and Canada approach us and ask what God is up to in South Dakota!  While developing our students remains our number one priority, we give thanks that our commitment to being accessible, affordable, relevant, and faithful is placing us as frontrunners in the wider conversation.

Next week, we will highlight some of the ways God is at work through Sioux Falls Psychological Services and how the terms affordable, accessible, relevant, and faithful have a different, but equally important, role in the counseling center’s mission.

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