Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Why Campus 3 -- Enhanced Courses

This is my third post in the series on why a Christian college should join the Campus Edu network:

Previous posts in the series include:

Novel excerpt 2.1

Since I publicly said I was starting this novel, I guess I will have to continue. I posted an excerpt from the first chapter here. 

Here is a first excerpt from the second chapter:


... Matt ate it up. He had gone to public school, and this was what he had been looking for, a school that was permeated with a “biblical worldview.” If anything, he would be disappointed by how much time teachers gave to perspectives he considered fundamentally unbiblical. Matt was a pre-med, biology major. The biology department didn’t endorse evolution, but they believed students should know the theory. Matt was ready. He had read a number of books on intelligent design and creation science in high school. If his professors left out any arguments against evolution, he was ready to fill in the gaps.

Brad started out a pre-med, chemistry major. To be honest, I didn’t see him as a doctor. He was smart enough, but he was a bit clumsy and impractical. He was great, but I would be afraid for him to operate on me. I'd be afraid he'd accidentally leave a scalpel inside. No one blinked an eye when he switched to ministry his second year.

We all had at least one class together. Matt, Brad, and Jessica all had freshman biology. April and I both had psychology. Looking back, I don’t remember half the classes I took. There’s something seriously wrong about that, especially given how much money we were borrowing. Matt was always complaining about what a colossal waste of money it was. Only Brad and April actually seemed to like their classes...

Thursday, November 25, 2021

How we learn...

I'm working on my next blog post on "Why Campus." This next entry is on enhanced courses. I thought I would do a preliminary post here to get my juices flowing.

1. What are the weak spots of the typical college course? We have long heard that the lecture is the least effective way to learn. I did some quick research. This piece suggests that while students sometimes think lectures are the best, the introduction of interactive components can improve learning significantly. 

When I think back on my own thirty years of teaching, in the early decades I could tell when students were glazing over. I would insert a break or group activity when I saw this happening. However, my activities were not well designed. They were more release valves than truly helpful. I was somewhat entertaining, but it only helped with some students. 

When I started teaching Greek in the early 90s, I was the more entertaining of the two of us. However, I'm not sure that the students learned more from me than they learned from the other professor. They may have enjoyed the experience more, but it didn't necessarily produce greater learning. This may have been the case throughout my career--they enjoyed me more but did they learn more than they learned with the professor who was more regimented?

2. When wireless came into the picture, the scores on my tests went down. I used to be very clear about what would be on the test, but the attention to what I was saying went down. Now it didn't matter as much whether I was entertaining or not because they were entertaining themselves on the web during class. There were of course the curmudgeon professors who forbade laptops in class. I always looked down on them. Did they really think they could win that cultural competition?

No, we had to find ways to collaborate with the technology. In 2009 when I switched to primarily being administration, I was poised to used clickers to have in class quiz questions. I planned to ask questions throughout the class time that required you to snap out of whatever distraction you might be engaged in to answer questions. By golly you would learn in my class!

I have known for my whole career about different learning styles and I have felt the short attention span. I know because I have one. I always felt that my own inability to sit through sermons and lectures has made me a more interesting teacher because I can feel myself getting bored at myself. The idea that the average attention span is less than 10 minutes now is generally agreed, although this piece pushes back. My sense is that the piece mistakes being able to make a counterargument is the same as making a counterargument. This is one of the problems with much thinking today. It thinks that if you can show a contrary position is possible that it disproves the alternative or proves the minority position.

3. Zoom has been interesting. I continue to slip in group breakouts. But because I don't structure them, I'm not sure anything happens. I have found the students at Houghton College to pay better attention (I think) than the students I used to have at IWU. I don't know if this is a cultural shift, an indication of the typical Houghton student, or a misperception. 

At the same time, I have experience more silence and lack of conversation than my early years of teaching. It is always nice when there is at least one student that interacts. A few years ago I began to notice the "spectator student" dynamic. It seemed to correlate to what I saw in much Christian worship too. We watch the worship team but don't necessarily sing ourselves.

4. So what of the evolution of the online learning environment?

When we started Wesley Seminary, there was some defense made of online teaching. Those days are so long ago that I almost consider irrelevant any people who might still argue against its potential effectiveness. The twentieth century is calling you. Studies have shown that online teaching is at least as effective on average as face-to-face in terms of learning. You can also do spiritual formation virtually. 

In the end, it doesn't matter whether we like it or not. It doesn't matter whether we prefer it or not. It's here. It will always be here. You can grumble, but your grumbling is irrelevant. It is a train that will run over your grumblings and not even realize it has run over you. That's the situation whether we like it or not. Some purely face-to-face colleges may survive, but they will be few and likely very small. 

The early online course was convenient because it was completely asynchronous. Do it whenever you best can. It thus became out of sight, out of mind for many--sometimes even for the professor. You wrote a book--type, type, type, type, type, type, type. Those perceived to be the best professors were not the most entertaining but the best administrators. I often thought of the peppered moth phenomenon during the Industrial Revolution in England. They stood out and were eaten first before soot. Then they thrived after soot.

So the entertaining professor thrived before asynchronous online. The disciplined administrator thrived thereafter.

The pandemic has changed things. Mind you, I did a hybrid class in 2009. I was doing an online class with live Zoom sessions the very semester that the pandemic broke out. I blamed lack of bandwidth early on for the "type type type" phenomenon of online. I sense that we are now culturally used to Zoom. It's a clear shift, even though we are sick of it. We know it. It is not strange. 

5. I have speculated for several years now that the online class of the future will be more like video gaming. I know more than one (especially male) college student who has struggled in college because of gaming. They stay up late. They miss class. They don't get their work done.

There have always been students (mostly boys) who don't connect with the typical academic system. I call them the "lost boys." They are some of the brightest young people. They have a lot to offer. They often went on to pastor the largest churches and have some of the most "successful" ministries from one perspective. They failed their ministry classes.

I have worked with people who are extremely talented, extremely innovative, extremely successful, but they didn't do very well in the academic setting. I blame us in the academy rather than them. They found us irrelevant and uninteresting. We probably were not as irrelevant as they thought we were, but we were utter failures at our teaching method, I believe, at least for this set of students.

It seems to me that cultural shifts have turned us into extreme failures at teaching. We have not figured out how to teach this generation. Frankly, I don't think we knew how to teach the earlier generations either. They just sat and took it from us. When I look at the widespread cultural ignorance--no less present in the church than at large... when you consider that most of the culture went to college... I have to consider one of the primary tasks of the academy to have been quite a failure. "General education" hasn't seemed to do what it's supposed to do.

6. I've been doing "opposition research" for the better part of this year. I was at a pivot in my life and I thought I would go back to school part-time. I've taken online courses with Southern New Hampshire and Arizona State, two of the so-called leaders in the field. I've taken programming and graphic design courses with the one and a STEM class with the other. Meanwhile, I had been designing various online courses with Houghton College--webinars and software courses. I may take an Outlier course and maybe an Android course. What's going well? What isn't? 

Of course I'm working for Campus Edu, so I'm working with a bunch of brilliant people at this sort of thing. 

6. This blog post might begin here. What are we going to do about it? I come back to learning styles. In seminary, I learned about the Kolb experiential learning cycle. Concrete experience leads to observation. I reflect and then make some abstract conceptualizations. Then I experiment and the cycle continues. I'll confess this model doesn't connect with my personal learning styles so I have only taken away from it over the years that some people learn best in this way.

My son is one of them. He learns best by hands-on application and problem-solving. He is about to graduate from Purdue, which for all I can see has mostly failed to meet him at his learning style. 

Neil Fleming's VARK model (1987) seems to balance out Kolb a little. He had four learning styles: visual learners, auditory learners, physical learners, and social learners. My son, I suspect, would be more of a physical learner. The traditional academy may utterly fail this group. Some people need to see it. Some people need to talk it. 

I have worked a few times with "external processors." They have to talk it out to figure it out. You might guess that I learn best by writing and teaching. The process of presenting information or an issue helps me process it.

The model I like the most is the 7 learning styles approach, which I take to come from Howard Gardner (1991). I took this diagram from Educlouds. Google also has a helpful diagram here.

I think I can correlate some of this diagram with the Myers-Briggs personality types. On the introvert-extrovert spectrum, some learn best alone. Some learn best in a social context. That is, some people are internal processors and some people are external processors. 

Some people learn best by external/hands-on application and concrete problem-solving. Other people are most comfortable in reflection and abstraction. These differences seem to relate somewhat to the S versus N scale in Myers-Briggs, the concrete versus the intuitive.

The NTJ personality may learn best by the logical, sequential approach. Give me the subject matter in order, starting with the fundamental building blocks and building the structure up from there. This scheme may not account for the "P" learner as well, however. This is the person who learns best by getting right into it, using inductive learning. 

The "verbal" is sometimes broken out into writing/speaking. The very fact that I am blogging suggests I heavily function in this category. We should also not pigeon-hole a person into just one learning style. Most of us probably would learn best with some combination of these approaches.

This website, by the way, has 12 learning styles: 1) visual, 2) auditory, 3) tactile (touching), 4) kinesthetic (she breaks out physical into these two), 5) sequential (combined above into the logical), 6) "simultaneous" (this is the need to see the big picture first--I resonate with this one), 7) reflective (brainstorming, more inductive), 8) verbal, 9) interactive (social), 10) direct experience, 11) indirect experience (learning from experiences of others, and 12) musical or rhythmic.

7. Now for the synthesis. What is my own list, putting all the material above together?

  • It seems to me that there are few purely "auditory" learners. Yet this is the basket of the traditional academy. The least effective, it would seem.
  • I know there are visual learners. My daughter (and I) will not likely remember if we only hear something. We need to see it written down.
  • I know that there are "hands-on" learners (kinesthetic, physical). There's a proverb falsely attributed to Confucius: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." Well, for some. This connects to experiential learners. "We learn by doing" (John Dewey).
  • I know that there are internal and external processors. There are clearly reflective and social learners.
  • There are clearly verbal processors. Teaching is another example of this. I learned biblical Greek best by teaching it. I have learned a great deal about physics and math by creating YouTube videos. A variation on this style is the person who synthesizes material best by writing, as also applies to myself. 
  • There are deductive and inductive learners. The former learn best in sequence. The latter are best thrown into the thick of it. This last approach I find better holds attention. 
  • There are big picture and details people. The former need to see where you're going before starting the journey. The latter can follow the thread of detail into the subject.
  • Somewhere in here should go problem-based learning. This approach learns best by trying to solve puzzles or problems. I suppose this connects to Kolb's reflection phase.
  • Storied learning seems important. It relates to direct and indirect experience above. It is certainly one of the strongest human defaults, and this is something that should be kept in mind.
  • Somewhere in here we also need to mention the ever-declining attention span. It is a parameter I believe for teaching.
  • Where does the gaming mentality go? It is a kind of interactive learning that incorporates short attention spans. It is inductive. It is problem-solving. It is a kind of virtual hands-on. It is visual and auditory. It is interestingly very social these days. There isn't much abstraction or reflection involved, perhaps revealing a major weak spot in the current mental muscles of young men.
I'll stop there. I am writing a piece for the Campus Edu blog on how Campus Learn courses enhance learning. It definitely is more visual. It has more of a live component for better social. We'll see what my "learn by writing/teaching" style synthesizes further by Monday. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Why Campus 2 -- Enriched Curriculum

Here is my second course in a series on the Campus Edu on the question, "Why Campus?" This one talks about how Campus Edu can be used to keep or expand curricular offerings in an enriched way.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Novel start -- Deconstruction: A Novel

Last week I started writing a novel, Deconstruction: A Novel. I've edited the first chapter several times this last week, trying to find the right characters. I'm posting more extensive stretches on Patreon, but thought I would put some excerpts here as well. Here is a little from the first chapter. Post-edits will certainly happen.


We met on the first day of college. Matt was a Southern Baptist from just over the Georgia border. April was a Methodist from Beaufort, South Carolina. Brad was a Pentecostal from Kings Mountain, just into North Carolina. Of course, they say we’re all just different flavors of Baptist in the South.

We all thought ourselves Christians. We all believed in the Bible. We each in our own way wanted to see the defeat of sin and injustice in the world. We all couldn’t wait to go to a Christian college, where we thought everyone else would be just like us. We were going to learn more about God. We were going to have a lot of fun. Welcome to Ebenezer College in the fall of 2016!

It was a strange and unique time in American history. Our first semester saw the election of President Trump. Our time there ended with COVID. None of us were expecting to struggle with our faith. None of us had any real sense of how much a person could change in three or four years. You see it looking back. They tell you it’s going to happen. You’re going to transition from teenager to adult. But it’s hard to see what that looks like from the front end.

They have a word for what some of us experienced. Deconstruction...

Deconstruction is the idea that, as you build something, it falls down under its own weight. The very building of it brings about the unbuilding of it. The principles that construct it lead to its un-construction. It unravels in the very process of trying to sow it together.

We all had different personalities. Matt was a firebrand. At one point we all thought he should have been the preacher. He was always fighting something. The world for him was a never-ending boxing match, with enemies out to get us around every corner.

Brad was funny. He never missed an opportunity to treat a subject lightly. We didn’t realize for a long time that he spent the other half of his time depressed. Looking back, it was really his search for God’s presence that drove a lot of our discussions.

April was more practical and far more organized than the rest of us. She was someone who kept a calendar of what to study each day to get her homework done and be ready for the test. It really annoyed her when Brad would ace a quiz or paper he had only worked on one night, while she had actually read the material and studied a little each day.

Meanwhile, Jessica and I pretty much looked on and watched the show. Jessica was April’s roommate. I lived in the same suite as Brad in the nicest dorm. Jessica came for softball, not paying any attention to the fact it was a Christian college. Required chapel really took her by surprise, as did the rules about not drinking. She hadn’t quite figured out what to major in. She wasn’t really there for the classes.

I thought I came to be a doctor. I found myself that first semester in the same biology and chemistry classes as Matt and Brad. But a lot of things change in college. Most students change their major at least once. The same would be true of me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Why Campus Edu 1 -- Expanded Markets

Last week I wrote a piece on the Campus Edu blog on the future of modality in higher education. This week I began a seven-part series on why I believe Campus Edu could be a key partner for a Christian college in moving toward that future.

The first post in that series is titled, "Why Campus -- Expanded Markets." Here's a key quote:

"Campus aims to help colleges expand their markets by networking together. This is a hard sell for some because of the 'zero-sum game' assumption. 'Why would I give some of my students to another college?' The answer is, 'To get even more.'"

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

God With Ten Words self-published

I did the deed. I took the short project and self-published it. Sent some copies to some of my kids so they know my musings on God at 55.

Paperback version

Kindle version

The description says, "It is common to speak of the attributes or characteristics of God. This book picks ten key characteristics of God and explores them both biblically and theologically. God is mystery, love, power, knowledge, presence, Immanuel, good, parent, justice, and savior."

I did, by the way, self-publish an earlier book on God and Creation: Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections when I was 48. It was the first of a three-volume series I wrote, although I haven't found the time to publish the material I have already written for volumes two and three. I should probably push those out.

Monday, November 08, 2021

The Future of Modality in Higher Education

Here is a piece I wrote for the Campus Edu blog on the "Future of Modality in Higher Education." 

There are so many possibilities. This is not a time for fear, but for blowing the top off of education as we know it.


Saturday, November 06, 2021

Final Excerpt -- God with Ten Words

I finished my project to write a short book capturing my basic thoughts on God, using ten key words. I'll probably self-publish it this next week. Below is a final excerpt from near the end of the final chapter on God as Savior.

Here are previous excerpts from God with Ten Words:


It is interesting to remember my own path on the location of eternity. I grew up thinking that eternity was in heaven or hell in some other dimension. Having grown up on Star Trek, I never thought that eternity would be in this universe.

I remember reading a Christian comic book in high school that mused whether a particularly beautiful galaxy could be where heaven was. I chuckled, amazed that the comic writer would think heaven was in this universe. If God created this universe, then surely heaven—where God is—is somewhere outside of it!

Then again, I was amazed to find out at one point that my father did think that hell was in the middle of the earth. I had always assumed that hell must also be in some other dimension. After studying the Bible now for some time, I have realized that my father probably wasn’t wrong on where the New Testament writers pictured hell or at least the realm of the dead. Paul says those things “under the earth” will bow before Lord Jesus (Phil. 2:10). But surely this is a picture rather than something we should take literally.

So there are people that take this biblical imagery literally, with heaven up somewhere and hell in the middle of the earth. And for some reason, I grew up thinking that heaven and hell were in some other dimension. I also grew up thinking that, when we die, we went to that other dimension for eternity. I believed in the second coming too, but apparently, it was just a gathering expedition before Christ destroyed the earth.

As I further studied the New Testament, I came to realize that most of the New Testament does not picture eternity as off in some other place at all. It pictures eternity on a transformed earth. At first, this idea seemed heretical to me. After all, isn’t that what Seventh-Day Adventists think? I guess I took Revelation 21 as a picture rather than literally, the new Jerusalem descending to earth.

But Jesus speaks of people coming from north, south, east, and west to feast with him in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:29). When Paul talks about the creation being freed from corruption (Rom. 8:21), he seems to be saying that the material world has been damaged by the power of Sin and needs to be “saved” too. We already mentioned that, when he talks about the power of Sin over our flesh, he seems to be saying that Sin somehow has a foothold over my body (Rom. 8:14). Scholars like N. T. Wright have particularly emphasized the transformed earth focus of the New Testament.

As is often the case, continued reflection leads to new questions and new possibilities that almost take you back to where you started. What has especially done this for me is reflection on the vastness of the universe and the possibility that there might be beings elsewhere in the past and future who will need redemption. The authors of the Bible only knew of the relatively flat “land,” probably not even that the earth was a sphere. Why would God doom the rest of this immense universe upon the sin of two people on a small, insignificant planet? And therefore, why would God transform all the rest of this universe because of the moment of salvation on one tiny little planet?

Perhaps the idea of a new earth in another dimension is not so ignorant after all. It would be a transformed earth, not least because it would be freed from the power of Sin over it. At the same time. it would fit with the sense that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us so that where he is, we may be also (John 14:3).

Perhaps that other dimension is still part of this universe in some way. After all, it is hard to imagine that we would be able to exist in “wherever” God outside this universe might be. We can even wonder if the angels as we know them are part of this universe, just in the spiritual part of it. These are all things above our pay grade, and no doubt we will laugh in heaven at how foolish I was even to speculate.