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Principles of CBTE: Integrated Outcomes

February 7, 2021

by Greg Henson, President

Let’s dive into another CBTE principle that undergirds Kairos. We have, thus far, reviewed collaborative mission, mentored teamwork , contextualized discipleship, and customized mastery. Our focus today is integrated outcomes.

We contend that competency-based theological education has the potential to call us back to a form of education that values the role of relationships, both with God and with each other. At its core, it is a philosophy of education that invites us to let go of many of our inadequate assumptions about learning, to humbly critique our long-held ways of knowing, and to embrace the development of learners as a truly organic, spirit-filled, process of discipleship. However, as we have been on this Kairos journey, there has been serious internal debate over whether placing Kairos in the world of CBTE might be misleading given that we care about a great deal more than “competency” as commonly defined or understood. As we surveyed the landscape of competency-based programs, we often found that in many schools competencies functioned like widgets – measurable and manageable learning chunks that can be checked off as they are mastered.

This is not what we were doing and not at all our goal.

Fortunately, as we talked with more schools, we unearthed a few hidden gems. Then, we began deeper conversations with people like Charla Long at C-BEN. Eventually, we learned that our desire for deep learning focused on integrated outcomes was shared by many voices within the world of competency-based education. The fact that the general understanding of CBE was guided by a handful of really large schools – some of whom were doing the exact opposite of what CBE was originally intended to do – was a shared concern. We have been encouraged to share our story and our commitment to the Kairos approach to CBTE because it fosters the very integrated learning sought by those most committed to CBTE as a philosophy of education. In our experience, the principle of integrated outcomes requires us to consider integration across disciplines and across communities.

Integration Across Disciplines
As followers of Jesus, there are no aspects of mastery that do not require theological acumen, biblical rootedness, practical skill, and proven character. Integrated outcomes find a place for all four. This won’t always be overt in the writing of the highest-level description, but when the outcome with its discrete goals, interactions, inputs, and indicators is taken as a whole, the result is an integrated outcome.

The goal is for integrated outcomes to describe a mature follower of Jesus – not solely in terms of what work the student does but in terms of who the student can become and what they become capable of. The word “outcome” describes the specific, tangible result embodied by the successful student. When the principle itself is integrated with the others we have described thus far, we find that integrated outcomes are also contextually-sensitive outcomes.

In practice, this means that outcomes must be written in such a way that they allow for the diversity and beauty of the body of Christ. We must carefully refrain from imposing one culture, context, or tradition on everyone. This is a difficult task in that it invites us to embrace difference as a necessity for embodying the way of Jesus. It is this reality that brings us to the concept of integration across communities.

Integration Across Communities
A wide range of thinkers have begun to point us to the importance of being in conversation and significant engagement with communities of difference. Quaker educational philosopher Parker Palmer, in his Courage to Teach, argues that we must face the fear of difference in order to be our best selves as teachers and as people, and we must help our students do the same thing. Other philosophers, from Emmanuel Levinas with his “epistemic necessity of the other” to Alasdair MacIntyre’s argument that living traditions must always engage difference in order to maintain life, help us see the way that difference and otherness are essential for being our best selves personally and corporately.

Each of these philosophers’ work underwrites the importance of developing a learning community comprised of people who do not share the same personal, communal, or theological identities. In so doing, each individual is able to develop a deeper sense of call and identity. Integrated outcomes invite all participants (learners, mentors, faculty, partners, etc.) to see the world both globally and locally.

Such outcomes enable students and faculty from disparate Christian traditions and/or vocations to be in constant conversation with each other. Rather than retreating to easily categorized educational journeys that require all students to operate within a particular theological stream (e.g. Anabaptist, Lutheran, Reformed, Conservative, Evangelical, etc.) or vocational setting (rural, urban, congregational, business, etc.), students and faculty are required to bump into the “other” throughout the entirety of the educational journey.

Within Kairos, degree program outcomes are designed in such a way that they can guide learning, be assessed in the context of a mentor team, and present opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery of content, character, and craft. They do not, however, dictate each particular detail of the personal, communal, or theological identity that undergirds that content, character, and craft.

All of this is reinforced by having outcomes that are integrated. Whereas discipline-specific or theologically prescriptive outcomes allow students to exclude people who disagree with them, integrated outcomes require ongoing conversation with the “other” no matter how difficult those conversations may be. In short, integrated outcomes broaden and deepen each participant’s knowledge (which is itself integrated) and creates a broad and diverse learning community. As a result, all participants (students, faculty, mentors, partners, etc.) develop deeper personal, communal, and theological specificity and vocational excellence.

How then, one may ask, does the seminary ensure students develop and display mastery of each outcome with the level of specificity needed for a particular context? That is where holistic assessment comes into play. We will look at that next week!

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