Resources for Practices of Excellence in Theological Education
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Connections in the Curriculum
Connecting Field Education with the Classroom
Capstone Courses and Projects
"They need to do ministry while they're here, as well as think and talk and write about it. When they begin to put ministry into practice, their learning becomes not just objective but personal and integrated. That is always my goal in teaching. . . . Regrettably, much of the information students learn in the academic curriculae will be forgotten, but the students who develop and maintain Christian faith and integrity will live out of that center in faithfulness."
"I don't want just to pour lots of information into my students. I try to help them take ownership of the information by teaching through question and answer and giving them projects in which they discover the facts for themselves and have to do something with them. . . . If we - the pastoral theology department -- are really doing our job right, we'll be helping them bridge the gap between academic theology and the world in which all of our parishioners live. We don't want them to forget theology and just be 'practical.'" [Editor's note: this is the job of all the faculty, not just the practical theology department.]
An essential step in strengthening student learning is to evaluate the curriculum in light of stated student learning outcomes and sharpen its focus on those outcomes. For an overview, see the editor's "The Purpose-Driven Curriculum: Getting the Curriculum Firing on All Cylinders" in PDF format. (Note: this is a working document and may contain typographical errors, etc. Please send suggestions for improvement to the editor.
Working in Teams
Dr. Bryan Chapell at Covenant Seminary has students prepare their first sermon manuscript in teams. This gives students experience in working with others and also improves the quality of the sermons, since different students will better grasp different aspects of sermon preparation the first time through. Click here to download a copy of the assignment (PDF file).
A systematician gives oral finals to small groups of students in the introductory systematics course. This gives students an opportunity to work together and learn to rely on others. It is also evaluates students' skills in an area important in pastoral ministry but little practiced in seminary: oral expression. (Few pastors write exegetical or theological papers after seminary, but all answer parishioners questions. This is then a more "authentic" means of assessment. ("Authentic assessment" evaluates student performance in situations that are as close to "real-life" as possible, like a flight trainer. For more on authentic assessment, see the links to glossaries on the Online Assessment Resources section of the ATS web site.
A church historian teaches group skills in a series of required courses in his discipline. In the foundational course, the instructor trains students how to work effectively in groups and student groups then prepare 45-minute presentations. In the final course, 75-minute presentations. He comments that "I'd like students to experience learning as a cooperative venture, in which they help teach one another, as well as learn from the faculty. That way, they should be more inclined to share and 'give away' ministries to the laity later on."
Biblical Interpretation and Preaching
In one small seminary, the New Testament professor and homiletics professor made a deal. Every sermon is accompanied with an exegetical paper supporting the interpretation of the text given in the sermon. Every NT exegetical paper is accompanied with a sermon based on the passage. The two instructors swap papers for grading.
A church historian includes in upper-level courses a requirement that students submit a self-reflection on issues including responsibility, vulnerability, and flexibility. He also requires them to articulate and defend a thesis.
One seminary developed a capstone seminar for its M.Div. program using a case study approach. The seminar consists of an initial orientation, five sessions (of 2 1/2 hours per week), and an exit interview. The cases place students in an imaginary congregation and require them to demonstrate their ability to integrate their seminary studies, by responding to the various cases and developing a theology of ministry statement. Students respond to the case biblically one week, theologically the next, etc. The entire seminar is co lead by a faculty member and a pastor, with a series of faculty members from the appropriate disciplines sitting in each week (five faculty members for each seminar). The capstone provides faculty with information to assess the effectiveness of the curriculum preparing persons for congregational ministry.
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Last Updated: 6/24/06