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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: Educational Programs & Course Development

Recently, I was invited into a meeting about curricular redesign when I suggested that our philosophy of education may actually be more important than the way we deliver our education. I followed this statement by suggesting that we consider more flexibility and customizability for students. The response and challenge to what I proposed in that meeting (to be written about another time!) was that I wasn’t necessarily talking about a philosophy of education as much as highlighting alternatives in delivery and the structure of academic offerings.

What prompted me to suggest that flexibility and customizability are outgrowths of our philosophy of education as opposed to simply a different form of delivery? When I think of philosophy I think about a way of being and not just about knowledge and content. The following question is just one example illustrating how a shift in our philosophy can change how we carry out our day to day activities in the context of a theological seminary:

What if seminaries aren’t the sole holders of pedagogical truth and organizational wisdom? I’ve had many conversations recently with pastors, denominational leaders, and parachurch ministry leaders who are incredibly perceptive about how biblical studies, theology, and ministry contexts intersect within theological education. How can we invite them into assisting faculty in determining curricular content? I strongly affirm the 2020 ATS standards which state “the faculty as a whole is to design, implement, evaluate, and improve the school’s educational programs in collaboration with other appropriate parties.” However, that doesn’t mean that other parties such as local vocational context leaders and students can’t be invited into the process of determining content. Traditionally, the way to give students more flexibility and customizability is through additional electives and creative course content. There are alternatives from the traditional approach that often relies more upon a faculty member’s own educational journey and less upon vocational contexts and students’ desires.

I believe that there are multiple paths toward offering students both a more flexible and customizable learning journey – however, it will take more than simply rethinking elective offerings and creative course content to reach our destination. There are multiple challenges in building a system in which each student receives similar experience and achieves the same goals.

During our previous Quarterly Strategic Planning meeting a faculty member voiced frustration with the notion of “practical” theology – the point was well-made that all theology, in its best sense, is very practical. Academic institutions tend to segregate what must be integrated. This disintegration is not just a problem in academic studies.  The operational side of a seminary needs to better integrate financial models, curriculum/educational programs, organizational /administrative structures, student support systems, technological systems, library services, and facilities.

This is all an introduction to the next post which will begin to explore in more detail the integrated “operating system” I proposed in the previous post with thoughts about a philosophy of education guided by greater levels of flexibility and customizability.

– by Dr. Brent Sleasman, President
– Image accessed on Adobe Spark using UnSplash

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