Sunday, August 12, 2007
  Wicked problems? Can theological teaching change?
Nichthus wrote a long post eulogising Sydney, and the conference he is/was at (I could not really work out what the conference was about ADBC or something, that and "PowerPoint slides break the rules of working memory.") But he began with a mention of ‘wicked problems’ and that wording kept me reading. Which is just as well, since for me the meat of the post was in the tail.

There he presents some ideas for the future of theological education. I think what he presents IS a wicked problem. The things Mark says are common sense and largely accepted in Pedagogy (some of them for decades but most theological educators are not trained teachers, and the structures we work in and our own educational experiences make us subject oriented, and so sadly not (despite our desires) student centred. So I'll repeat Mark's bullets and comment on them, from where I sit. He looks forward to:
Clearly defined student outcomes that focus on the development of the learner rather than content coverage (already a standard feature of instructional design).
The trick is that we need:
  • First: to get acedemics to really accept this, with their heads - many still think (deep deep down) that it IS all about content. Unless this conversion happens we will get no where. Even if this was what teachers were teaching teachers in the 70s. Most theological teachers are NOT teachers!
  • Second: someone to help us to put it into practice - we were taught, and most of us (since thanks to the baby boom after the war, most are frankly old) we have taught for many years, in a content-focused way, so - even when convinced - we need nudging and reminding not to slip back into bad habits.
Assessment tasks that encourage process rather than outcome, and that are flexible enough to permit reference to a variety of real world contexts. Linking students in with their real worlds as the context for theological and exegetical engagement (yes, already an established theme in general educational literature).
Here, many of us already agree in principle, so this task is easier. But again, since we were not taught this way, we need help. It is so much easier to set an essay from the list that old Dr Brown used.
Shifting the classroom and meeting experience from didactic teaching first, conversation and dialogue supplemental to conversation and dialogue first, didactic teaching supplemental (this could be achieved with a national resource-based approach).
From where I sit the key here is the little term "resource-based". The conversation thing is common, dialogue is present (not as often as we'd like, because hierarchical structures oppose it, but it occurs), but no way is current practice resource-based! This depends (I think) on the conversion mentioned above - if theological teachers really accepted that they teach students not subjects, people not content, really really believed that, then resourced-based teaching would be easy to encourage.
Viewing church history and established dogma as a resource, not as the subject. The subject is now, the student context, the today world. We do not need to reinvent; rather, we need to discover how we can make relevant. We must enter the future looking forwards, but still with a sense of continuing the Christian story and writing its current chapters in the context of what has been written before. To ignore theological tradition makes us ignorant and impoverished. To focus solely on it without reference to the current context makes us irrelevant and impotent.
And maybe this is the way into the whole conversion...
We must design with an appreciation of the gradual development of the learner. Yes, level 5 study ought to be more structured and foundational. Yes, levels 6 and 7 should be far more open-ended and conversational. Wisdom must guide our pedagogies. Faith in the Spirit’s work in developing the learner must be apparent.
Though, of course, this is the real key...

....but faith without works is dead ;-)


Related content:

Way back in June AKMA had a post I have been meaning to think more about What Is Theological Education Like? in which he contrasts two sorts of outcome of learning: objective/cognitive and affective/intuitive. Different sorts of endeavour require different mixes of these, so horrifyingly in advance of events he wrote:
In some fields, we expect practitioners to have mastered a field of vitally-important facts. I do not care how my civil engineer feels about cement, steel, and road
surfaces; I care urgently that the overpass stays up while I drive over (or under) it.
He notes the lack of consistency and clarity among people about the goals of theological education, and then writes:
For my part, I take the consequences of “untrue” theological practice as much more grievous than of, let's say, a very unpalatable, vacuous performance routine.
AKMA's position on this is strikingly similar to what Nichthus' writes from a different part odf the theo-ecclessial spectrum:
It’s great to embrace post-modernism and to engage in ‘free-field’ thinking. But we must remember that those participating in such discussion must first have a reliable framework and point of reference. Particularly in theological education, we need to take careful steps to create boundaries for participants. There are some things in evangelical Christianity that we simply must take for granted in a modernistic sense. The resurrection and Lordship of Jesus. The authority of Scripture. Salvation by faith, expressed through works. There is a core cluster of landmarks that we must have in place before embarking on theological dialogue. Novices can drown in an open sea of conversation.
I tend both to agree, and to dissagree! God knows (to quote Oscar Wilde out of context) I am with them in some things. And Mark's list looks about right. And yet... I wonder if even here the passion for truth needs to be preceded by a passion for people... Does conversation and dialogue even here precede understanding of why these truths (whatever list you or I hold as basic) are the ones and not others like them but different. The "why" is perhaps at least as important as the "what"!

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