Friday, February 27, 2015

14. Our guinea pigs survived.

1. Most of the first two MDIV cohorts, 14 students, graduated in August 2012. They seemed to survive the torture of being the lead cohorts, with its accompanying shock therapy. One of these cohorts had gone through the whole program onsite on Tuesdays. The other had been online for most of the program.

August 2012 Seminary Graduates
When we were designing the program, Russ and others more or less assumed it would take four years--three years of core courses and a year of electives. For the record, I believed then that a lot of students would try to slip in their electives throughout the program. Suffice it to say, most students do it in three years.

There was great camaraderie with the first cohort. One of my favorite stories was in the second summer of their program when it was discovered that David Norman's van had not only worn through the pads but through the rotors and the thing was only miraculously holding together at all. Josh Bowlin had some skills in this area and actually fixed the brakes during the Bible intensive. David was ever grateful that he had not died before catastrophe had struck.

Russ did the capstone with the class. The initial idea had been that the same person who taught their initial course would also do their capstone. Alas, it was not to be. Russ went to headquarters, and Lenny teaches far too much as it is. We have worked into a pattern of Keith Drury teaching almost all the capstones, which works perfectly.

Every time he teaches the class we get a treasure trove of new data on every course and on the program in general. There is usually a certain time delay on the key points of improvement. Often we have already fixed a key critique already. We can see the evolution of the program.

So at first there were the critiques of not having a full-time worship professor. Fixed when Safiyah Fosua joined us. There was the critique of administrative things falling through the cracks. But as I will mention in a coming post, infrastructure was gradually added to fix much of that. The most current critique is the availability of syllabi before a class begins. I view this in part as a luxury request, since in our undergraduate education we never got a syllabus before the first day of class. But we have developed even in the last week a system to make them available six weeks before every class begins.

There is an important organizational point hiding in here. You can improve satisfaction by changing expectations. 

2. There are some miscellaneous things I should catch up on. There was a background tune that had been playing throughout the first three years, namely, the harmony of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). At the end of the first year of the Seminary, in the summer of 2010, I went to Montreal to the ATS biennial meeting as an observer.

We had asked about the possibility of expediting our membership, since our MA program had been graduating students for decades. In the past, the criteria for certain things in the ATS standards were not exactly clear, nor was their website. If you go to the website today, it is phenomenally clearer than it used to be (and prettier). We actually paid Joel Liechty as a student worker to read through all their materials in that third year to give us the skinny.

So the standards only said that you needed to have graduated a first class of students to apply for membership in ATS. It would not be the last time we found out that it meant something a little more specific than actually stated. What the standard actually meant was that you had to have graduated your first class of MDIV students.

But ATS has always been extremely gracious to us, for which we are very grateful. So they let us apply for membership in 2012, even though the meeting in Minneapolis was technically a couple months before the graduation ceremony for the first cohorts. The first cohort had at least finished all their degree requirements by then.

Dan Aleshire himself came to campus in March of 2012 in preparation for our application. We always felt like he and the ATS staff were favorable toward us. Ironically, there were more radical versions of an MDIV out there than us. For example, Northwest Nazarene's MDIV requires no onsite courses at all.

When we started, some people in our circles seemed to raise their eyebrows. What, an MDIV that is only 75 hours? What, two thirds online? What, most of the face-to-face courses are in intensive format?

But six years later, there are now several completely online MDIVs. And the minimum number is 72 hours, less than us. Henry Smith had told us to aim for where ATS was headed, not where it was, and he was spot on.

In June 2010, when I first went to Montreal, there were the rising clouds of massive changes that were about to take place. In June 2012, when Wayne Schmidt and I went to Minneapolis, those changes were put into place. It was now possible to ask for "experimental status" in regard to some aspect of the standards. You could petition to differ from just about anything. In June 2014 at the biennial meeting in Pittsburgh, the experiments were in full bloom.

So in June of 2012, Wesley was voted in as an associate member of ATS. President Henry Smith popped in and stood with us for the requisite clapping and picture. That would launch us into the next step after membership, which would take another two years, namely, the process of actual accreditation.

3. There were also other things going on. In January 2011, Lenny Luchetti and I flew to New York and crossed the border into Canada to meet in the home where the assessment software "Chalk and Wire" is housed. Although IWU's switch to a different learning platform ultimately kept us from ever implementing their system, I learned a great deal about how to do assessment from them.

In the summer of 2011, we had a one week intensive at 12Stone® Church, co-taught by Dan Reiland and Bob Whitesel. It was the beginning of a partnership that would eventually blossom into an MA Leadership cohort that began in 2013 and is now entering its final stages.

In February 2012, Lenny Luchetti actually flew to New Zealand and taught the first course of the MDIV, "Pastor, Church, and World," there. We only ended up, I think, with three online students from it. In August 2012, Lara Levicheva went to Jamaica and taught our basic Bible course at the Caribbean Bible College to students who were going to join MA and MDIV cohorts. We ended up with one or two.

The international piece has always been a difficult nut to crack. We have had and have students in Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Haiti, and Bangladesh, but it seems like there are always difficulties (not least consistent internet connections). I have no doubt that Wayne, David Wright, and others will figure this out.

The blog post from January 2011 alludes to some brief exploratory conversations we had with Kingswood about starting something in Ottawa, Canada. But alas, it was not to be.

As I end discussion of our third year, I might mention that Lara Levicheva served us faithfully for two years under an hourly contract from January 2011 to the Fall of 2013. Since then she has faithfully served as the go-to adjunct foundations professor for Colleen Derr's Congregational Spiritual Formation class. We consider her part of the faculty team!

Previously on Seminary take-aways:

1. There are key moments of opportunity.
2. You need the right people.
3. Good leaders collaborate and navigate.

Year 1: Launch Year
4. Innovation requires some trial and error. (1)
5. Innovation requires some trial and error. (2)
6. Innovation requires some trial and error. (3)
7. New leaders bring new strengths. (1)

Year 2: Growing Pains
8. Administration never ends.
9. New leaders bring new strengths. (2)
10. New leaders bring new strengths. (3)

Year 3: The Year of Maturity
11. Complexity works against sustainability.

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