Saturday, February 14, 2015

6. Innovation requires some trial and error (3).

Previously on Seminary take-aways:
1. There are key moments of opportunity.
2. You need the right people.
3. Good leaders collaborate and navigate.
4. Innovation requires some trial and error. (1)
5. Innovation requires some trial and error. (2)

1. After the struggles to find our way with the design of the Missional Church class, Russ turned to Keith for help from an expert on curriculum development. The result was the birth of a process that we would follow until the entire curriculum was written. It was also a process that we followed somewhat in the creation of the Spanish MDIV.

a. We would begin with a team of experts in the same room, much as the Missional Church had originally started. The process began with a brainstorm. Everybody in the room would write down on individual pieces of paper topics that they thought should be covered in, say, a leadership course.

b. Then we would group these into 16 weeks' worth of headings, under which we could place all of this content. We would tape our individual papers under the relevant week with the goal of capturing as much of the brainstorm material as possible.

c. By the third semester, we had developed a new flow for the Integration Paper (IP), which from then on was assumed in our curriculum planning meetings. Remember that the IP was an assignment in all the praxis courses where the students took a pastoral issue and answered it by examining it throughout the course in the light of Bible, theology, church history, and other disciplines.

(The first time through I really had Wesley’s Quadrilateral in mind—at first, there was an assignment at the end where they looked at Supporting Disciplines. In the third semester, that became a preliminary research assignment in Week 3 so that they had some sense of the lay of the land on an issue before they started exploring Bible, theology, and church history.)

So from the third semester on, Week 7 would be completely dedicated to doing exegetical work. Week 14 would be completely given to writing the final position paper. Other weeks the IP would be one of their assignments. So in Week 3 they would do preliminary research. In Week 8 they would tie the biblical passages together into a biblical theology. In Week 9 they would look at theological sources and in Week 10 church historical precedents.

By the fourth semester (Spring 2011), we were picking the IP topic for Missional Church, choosing the passages, sources, and church historical precedents for students. Then in the Leadership course we let students pick between three topics for the IP, picked sources and precedents, but let them pick passages. In Spring of 2013, Dr. Arn and I broke down the exegetical work even further.

These revisions were all meant to ease students into the skills needed for these assignments as gently as possible. For a time, the IP assignments were all standardized in all the praxis courses. We knew which assignments went in which weeks where.

d. Around that time, we developed a template of roughly three discussions and a submission for each week. It was still too much, and we are still in some cases trying to prune it down to two discussions and a submission. The Application Paper remained in the final week.

e. After the curriculum meeting, individual assignments were given to different people to write up. Smaller ones earned $50. Bigger assignments were worth $100. Then my job was to stitch them altogether into a single style and put them into Blackboard.

Inevitably, the first cohort ended up with the assignments being put up week by week for the first three courses. Sometimes the second cohort had something similar because we were revising the material from the trial and error of the first time through. Each semester we improved the format... which meant that the documents had to be edited all over again.

It was an awful lot of work, and a lot of sighing was heard coming out of my office. (Wayne used to joke about all the sighing)

2. We continued with a different professor for praxis, Bible, theology, church history, and IP in the second semester. We could have as many as five different professors for one course. It was unsustainable. The administration of finding all these individuals was unbearable. The pay was complicated (Karen Clark was a trooper). The students had trouble figuring out which professor to email. It wasn't as bad onsite, because you could see which professor was in front of you.

But it could not last. A question Henry Smith asked loomed large in my mind: "If this is such a good idea, why isn't anyone else doing it?" Keith saw it before I did. With each passing year we would have far too many moving pieces to handle 5 professors per course. I have an email from Bud Bence even in the second semester (March 2010) with the subject line: "even historians have limits."

At the beginning of the third year (Fall 2011), we went to two professors for each praxis course, a lead praxis professor and a "foundations" professor who handled Bible, theology, and church history. John Drury and I didn't like the term "foundations" professor, because we didn't want to suggest that these assignments were necessary prerequisites for understanding the practice. They were more like resonances with the praxis in Bible, theology, and church history. I've actually moved more toward calling this person the "integration" professor.

A formula of 2/3 praxis and 1/3 "foundations" had been the model from the beginning. So went the loading of the courses from this point on. The praxis part of the course was considered 4 credit hours and the foundations part 2 credit hours.

There was an unintended consequence to having so many different foundations professors. It dis-empowered the voice of Bible, theology, and church history in the curriculum. Inevitably, the professors in this role tended to be adjuncts and their assignments had an ad hoc character. They did not build toward a cumulative understanding of the topic in relation to Bible, theology, or church history.

3. There are advantages and disadvantages to a course designed by committee. The potential advantage is that you might get a more balanced rather than idiosyncratic perspective. The disadvantage is that you may not get as unified a voice in the course. I tried to give a unified voice as final editor, but I'm not a leadership expert either.

We had some lively debates. Should the course cover leadership theory in general? Most thought yes but some thought no. Should the course cover mission and vision statements? Should it have a section on fund-raising and building projects? What about budgeting? Most thought yes but some thought no. I think the course ended up very good, and Bob Whitesel has continued to improve it ever since.

As a final aside, Keith Drury taught the first Leadership course onsite the second semester because Bob had taught the first Missional Church course onsite. It was my sense that it would be good for the students to have a different professor for each course, although Bob could have easily taught both.

We had some struggle to translate the online courses we had created back into an onsite format. It was a surprising problem. And it was at times harder to find onsite professors than online ones. The third semester onsite we had a cycling cast of leadership praxis teachers from week to week, everyone from Bob to Keith to David Drury to Wayne Schmidt. I thought it would be a great treat, to have such a rich cast of characters. But the students again found it confusing.

In a twist of irony, the visiting professor who taught on conflict management ended up leaving his church in the middle of the course... over not handling conflict well at his church.

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