CBTE: A Philosophy, Not a Model, Part 6

November 12, 2018

Last week, we continued our discussion on competency-based theological education by talking about how the philosophy impacts the role of faculty.  We shared that CBTE, when embraced as a philosophy, empowers faculty to bring all of their gifts and abilities to bear on the development and implementation of CBTE.

The changes rest in how faculty spend their time, function within the administrative aspects of the educational journey, utilize the breadth and depth of their gifts and abilities, and engage with students over the course of a calendar year.  Let’s take a closer look at what I mean.

How Faculty Spend Their Time
When the traditional hierarchy of value is eliminated, the role of faculty should not expand but rather shift.  For example, faculty will still teach courses but most likely teach fewer courses (because the institution most likely offers fewer courses). This time is shifted toward advising or mentoring students because that portion of their role has risen in value to where it is now equally as important as teaching courses.  The same will be true for things like engagement in administrative work, research, and writing.  In most cases, I have seen that faculty will spend more time one-on-one with students than in the past which means they will spend less time on other aspects of their role.

Administrative Aspects of the Educational Journey
Traditionally, faculty are engaged in the administrative aspects of theological education by way of their involvement on committees that do everything from develop and review curriculum to conduct and analyze program assessment.  In CBTE, faculty may serve on committees though there are probably fewer committees and the members of those committees most likely include people who are not faculty.  The time made available by less committee work is redirected toward more engagement in the administrative aspects of a student’s journey.  For example, in CBTE, faculty will be responsible for knowing more about how student progress is tracked within the system as well as for ensuring that healthy communication is happening between the student and mentor team.  In addition, faculty members will need to be more familiar with the entire curriculum rather than their specific disciplines.  This leads nicely to the next area of change.

Breadth and Depth of Gifts and Abilities
Faculty have a breadth and depth of knowledge, gifts, and abilities that is impossible to replicate via technology, not because we can’t get access to all of that knowledge digitally or through books, but rather because faculty know things that are not in books. Those gifts and abilities are typically brought forth in a classroom.  CBTE expands on the classroom role traditionally held by faculty by creating opportunities for creative expressions of learning guided by conversations with students rather than by a standardized syllabus.  A faculty member’s ability to curate, synthesize, and assess large quantities of information is greatly needed in order for students to take advantage of the flexibility offered through CBTE.  When the pace, pathway, and style of learning can be customized, students must have someone walking with them who “knows the way” and can serve as a guide.  In this way, faculty become mentors who are able to learn about their mentees as individuals and can then suggest resources and learning experiences along the way.  In order to engage along the way, however, engagement with students must take place over the course of the entire calendar year.

Calendar-Year Engagement
Perhaps the largest change in the role of faculty is related to the way in which they engage with students throughout the calendar year.  Because students have the power to set the pace for their learning, they have the option of engaging with faculty at any point during the calendar year.  This doesn’t mean that faculty are at the beck and call of students, but it does mean that faculty and students must work together to define a rhythm of interaction that empowers the student to make progress along the timeline they create.  In one case this may mean a student is heavily engaged in ministry during the summer so coursework (and therefore faculty interaction wanes).  In another case, it could mean that a student is more available in the summer and therefore requires more interaction with faculty during those months.  The primary shift is that the entire calendar year, as opposed to the academic year, functions as the “window of engagement” for faculty.

Given the brevity and lack of important nuance in this post (e.g. I didn’t say anything about how these areas may be impacted by the particular gifting of an individual or how growth in student numbers may impact the collective amount of time required), I am sure more could be said.  In addition, I am well aware of the fact that here at Sioux Falls we have yet to fully understand how this new approach is sustainable when enrollment rises as quickly as it is here.  Nonetheless, I think the shift noted in the picture we shared last week and the four items listed above do, in fact, capture the primary ways in which the role of faculty is impacted by CBTE.

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