Every day of seminary implementation here at IWU is a reminder of how revolutionary a vision we are pursuing. Here are three cliffs on my mind today, things that we academics can so easily fall back into:
1. The cliff of lecture
Lecturing is the least effective teaching technique. It makes us professors feel like we've covered the material, but the average student may take away a tenth of what we've said. Then maybe they'll cram some more facts into their head for some test. I have a strong sense that, on average, far more learning occurs in an online class than in the typical onsite classroom because everyone has to participate. You can't sit in the back of the room on Facebook because if you don't post online, you're not there.
(By the way, I'm not a confrontational type, so I figure if I can't design a classroom experience that keeps you with what we're doing, then part of that is my fault. Some profs get very upset with students on Facebook. I would put them in the same category of those who are fighting Wikipedia... you're going to lose this cultural battle. We've got to figure out a way to lasso the thing because it's not going away. At the same time, the grades of my students have gone down noticeably since the advent of the wireless classroom. I'm very up front in freshman classes about what they need to know to do well on my tests. So either these last two years are full of extremely stupid students... or they're not nearly as good at multi-tasking as they think they are.)
Memorization is of course the lowest level of learning. I know professors who think they're tough because students have trouble regurgitating material for their tests. They're not good teachers at all. Unless you move into higher level Bloom's learning (synthesis, integration, evaluation), you're a mediocre teacher. "We learn by doing."
2. The cliff of idiosyncrasy
One challenge for an individual teacher or pastor is that you only take your own class and you have yourself as a pastor all the time. Not so for students or your church. They know that the next professor disagrees with you and is just as sure s/he's right as you are. The last pastor told them "what's really going on here" as well, but it was something different from what you said.
We all want to write our own textbook for our own class giving the right way to think about such and such or do such and such. But that impoverishes the student/congregation. Good teaching will expose them to a diverse body of opinions and positions.
Collaboration has made the vision for the seminary at IWU great. But as we move toward locking down the course content, we have to guard against the trajectory veering off into an individualized final product. In some ways, it would be better to have an unknown good teacher facilitate a product that represents the best thinking of 20 people than to have an individual expert give an individual perspective.
The adult online education model 1) takes brilliant content from a content expert, 2) filters it through a brilliant instructional designer whose specialty is online pedagogy, and 3) is facilitated by someone who is brilliant at managing discussion and classroom activity. These are three distinct skills and not many have all three. It raises the question of whether the best education would be to have the brilliant visit and generate content rather than do the actual teaching/course writing.
3. The cliff of the disciplinary silo
We came into this game thinking one distinctive would be that we would make the Bible, theology, and church history expert get practical. But I saw clearly in the interview process that it goes both ways. It can be hard to get practical people to value Bible, theology, and church history just as much. It seems just as hard for "practical" people to stretch themselves to biblical or theological depth as it is for a "theoretical" person to stretch themselves to learn the practical.
We all have a tendency to go off in the direction of our own personality and area of expertise! How hard it is for us all to follow the middle way.
But let me end on a good note. We are two months away from our first course, three months from our first online course. (There's still room for onsite students to apply, coming to campus all day on Tuesdays in the Fall. We're getting really close with online students for the Fall, so hurry up or you're looking at the January start!)
The vision continues to thrive! The growing cast of characters is wonderful. This is almost an impossible dream... but it is becoming a reality every day, by God's grace!