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Agile Program Development – Classic Track Series

January 16, 2017

Assessment and operational efficiency create a strong foundation for program innovation.  Each brings new data, insights, and possibilities to the process of program development.  In an article posted on October 3, 2016, we shared a little about something what we call Agile Program Development (APD).  APD is a process for developing programs that is iterative, fast-moving, and responsive to the feedback received during the assessment process.  Rather than taking a few years to create what might be the perfect new program, we quickly implement changes in order to get feedback from students, faculty, pastors, denominational leaders, board members, and other constituents so that we can use that feedback to make improvements on the next iteration.  For more information about this concept, feel free to check out part one and part two of a blog series on the topic.  Today, we are going to look at how this process has improved our classic educational tracks at Sioux Falls Seminary.

About two years ago, we created our Degree Program Assessment Process (DPAP).  It is a comprehensive system for gathering qualitative and quantitative feedback regarding our various degree programs.  Data is gathered from students, faculty, ministry leaders, and other constituents using surveys, specific assignments, enrollment and retention tools, and much more.  The data is reviewed by faculty and staff on a consistent basis throughout the year so that adjustments can be made when necessary.  Some adjustments can be made during the academic year, sometimes even in the middle of a course, and others are made at the end of the academic year.  Perhaps the three most notable recent adjustments are those made to the Readiness for Seminary, Readiness for Ministry, and Supervised Ministry courses.

Readiness for Seminary
Students reading this may remember a course called Theology and Culture.  It was a course that we hoped all students would take during the first two semesters of their time in seminary.  Data from the DPAP revealed that this course was not meeting the needs of students, was not always a great experience, and was not helping the seminary as a whole because it may not have been as integrated into the curriculum as necessary.  As a result, we created a course called Readiness for Seminary.  It will be offered for the first time this spring.  It is an expanded course that will expose students to all facets of theological education as well as prepare them for what to expect out of their educational journey.  Several different professors will lead the class over the course of the semester which means students will have the opportunity to see many different aspects of theological education.  We are excited to see how this new course serves students and prepares them for their journey of education, discipleship, and transformation.

Readiness for Ministry
In the same vein, data revealed that graduating students were not being served well in a course called Readiness for Ministry.  It had become a sort of “catch-all” course that was not very integrative and was not helping the seminary determine if it was indeed helping students in the class achieve the goals that they had set out for themselves when they began seminary.  As a result, we adjusted the curriculum for the course, added mechanisms for working with students regarding their goals, and put a heavy emphasis on helping students integrate theology and ministry practice.  Our first run through the course was both very good and very eye-opening.  In some ways, it did everything we wanted it to, but in other ways students were not as well-served as we had hoped.  Therefore, the course was enhanced, portions of it were mirrored in Readiness for Seminary (so that Readiness for Ministry does not catch students by surprise), and new experiences were added.  The first time through the course provided immensely helpful information that has impacted nearly every aspect of our Master of Arts (Bible and Theology), Master of Divinity, and Master of Arts in Christian Leadership programs.  The students in that first iteration were a blessing to the seminary and to the students that will follow them.  I expect the results from the course this spring to be even better!

Supervised Ministry
Another area of focus has been Supervised Ministry.  By reviewing data, talking with students, and conversing with ministry leaders, we have discovered several ways that the Supervised Ministry courses at the seminary can be enhanced.  Thus far, adjustments have been very subtle.  In the near future, however, we will implement a new approach to the Supervised Ministry courses offered in our classic educational tracks.  Our post next week will share a few details on what we are thinking.  Be sure to come back and see what’s in store!

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