Saturday, July 26, 2014

Excellence in Teaching Award

News yesterday that I’ve won an Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law at Flinders University.

CITATION: For excellence, first, in teaching which is innovative in assessment design and in exploring “flipped learning” and second in scholarly activities including conference presentations and publication.

Details of the award are as follows: The Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law Awards for Excellence in Teaching are designed to reward staff for excellence in teaching within the faculty, and to encourage winners to apply for the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching later in the year and possibly the Australian Awards for University Teaching in the next year. Award winners receive a certificate of Excellence in Teaching and a prize of $3000 which may be used for such purposes as conference attendance, purchase of resources to assist in preparation and delivery of teaching and learning materials, or purchase of books, journals etc.

It involved an application (of some 4,000 words). Applicants need to reflect on their teaching in two out of five categories:

  • Approaches to teaching that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn
  • Development of curricula and resources that reflect a command of the field
  • Approaches to assessment and feedback that foster independent learning
  • Respect and support for the development of students as individuals
  • Scholarly activities that have influenced and/or enhanced learning and teaching

I chose to reflect on the first and last categories.

Approaches to teaching that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn – evident through innovations in assessment that have developed critical thinking, encouraged student engagement and inspired independence in learning. I presented as evidence student feedback across three topics I have taught – Reading Cultures; Church, Ministry, Sacraments and Introduction to Theology.

Scholarly activities that have influenced and/or enhanced learning and teaching – evident through leadership activities that have broad influence on the profession, in particular ways that I have encouraged the shift at Uniting College around blended learning technologies within theological teaching as a Department of Theology and also through reflective practice, seeking to conduct and publish research that reflects on excellence in teaching in blended learning.

I applied as a way of inviting myself to reflect on my teaching in general, given it is so crucial to the formation of leaders. I also wanted to benchmark the educating part of what I do and what we as as a College/Department of Theology do, against the wider University.

I’ve not given any thought to how to spend the money. I’m simply sitting with the encouragement that I’m an excellent teacher! :)

Posted by steve at 11:51 AM | Comments (6)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

four week road trip

I’m about to head off on a four week road trip.

Week one I am speaking at the National Ministers Conference in Charleville. The theme is fresh deeds and my fellow missiologist at Uniting College, Rosemary Dewerse,  and I will be using an indigenous model of contextual theology, weaving together children’s stories, Biblical reflection and recent missiology trends.

Week two I am in Sydney, teaching an intensive on mission for Charles Sturt University at the United Theological College campus. There are 20 students. I am framing the week around seven disciplines of mission
1. The discipline of prayerful discernment and listening (contemplation)
2. The discipline of apologetics (defending and commending the faith)
3. The discipline of evangelism (initial proclamation)
4. The discipline of catechesis (learning and teaching the faith)
5. The discipline of ecclesial formation (growing the community of the church)
6. The discipline of planting and forming new ecclesial communities (fresh expressions of the church)
7. The discipline of incarnational mission (following the pattern of Jesus)

These are a frame suggested by Anglican Bishop Steve Croft after he spent three weeks listening to Roman Catholic Cardinals and Bishops with Pope Benedict explore the single theme of the new evangelization.

During week two, Team Taylor will join me. In fact, Team Taylor will expand. We are flying over from Christchurch the girls best friends. So while I teach, they will enjoy girl time.

Week three is holiday. Team Taylor will return to normal size and we will explore Canberra and the Blue Mountains. It will be great.

Week four is the second National Ministers Conference. This one is in Sydney, with a focus on multi-cultural. This is the second of three, the final one being in Jerusalem in September. Yet, I am expecting to be a keynote speaker there as well!

One member of Team Taylor will remain with me, miss school (!) and enjoy a week of cross-cultural experience. I’m really looking forward to having a family member with me as I speak and sharing experience with me.

Four weeks. For weeks teaching! So looking forward to it.

Posted by steve at 07:06 PM

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Community of practice in flipped learning and indigenous voices

I heard today that I’ve been accepted into a Flinders University Faculty research project. I’m quite chuffed!

The project is addressing the research question: how can lecturers make their subjects accessible, flexible and suitably individualised to promote effective learning without compromising on the quality of the teaching or the integrity of the subject matter under study?

A few weeks ago a call for applications went out, seeking lecturers looking at re-designing and implementing a Semester 2 topic. I replied said that I am teaching Theology of Jesus in Semester 2, which I am wanting to implement flipped learning. I am also wanting to bringing in indigenous voices to explore a diversity of Christology. So if what I was planning to do already was of interest, I’d be glad to participate in a growth opportunity.

Today came the invite to participate. I’m one of 6 lecturers. We will meet together four times. We are asked to keep a journal of our learning. The project will monitor student learning. Together we will present our results, at a Faculty workshop and in writing.

In return each of us is allocated $1200, to spend on buying out teaching time, marking assistance, conference/travel assistance or purchasing of teaching and learning resources.

So why sign up?

  • It will force me to make the changes I want to in regard to flipped learning and.
  • It encourages the type of reflection I try to do anyway. Last year I blogged parts of the course and presented a paper.
  • It keeps me learning as a teacher.
  • It keeps us as a Department plugged into wider learning.
  • I thing this model has possibilities for peer learning as ministers, so I get to experience this as a participant before I suggest it for other
  • I am having a paper published in this area and so this keeps me focused and growing.

More work, but more resourced in a richer conversation, both in teaching and with others across the University.

Posted by steve at 01:36 PM

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

fresh words and deeds

The next months will include me speaking in Charlesville (end of June) and Sydney (end of July) and Jerusalem (middle of September). The occasion is the National Ministers Conference. Every three years, the President of the Uniting Church invites Ministers from across the church in Australia to a week of refreshment and input. The conferences occur in three different locations, designed to give a unique contextual shape. In this case rural and remote, multi-cultural and inter-faith.

conference

In addition, there is a core program of 4 sessions of which I’m responsible, along with my colleague, Rosemary Dewerse. In discussion with President Andrew Dutney, I suggested the theme of fresh words and deeds, rifting off my interest in innovation and the Basis of Union of the Uniting Church, in which the church “prays that she may be ready when occasion demands to confess her Lord in fresh words and deeds.” Here is what I was thinking when I was asked for a theme …

Here’s some of the conference blurb:

Steve Taylor and Rosemary Dewerse – two outstanding missiologists, communicators and educators. They’re planning a series of interactive, multi-sensory, reflective processes that will help a bunch of UCA ministers to imagine what the commitment made in the Basis of Union might mean for us today: “The Uniting Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of scholar, of prophet and of martyr. She prays that she may be ready when occasion demands to confess her Lord in fresh words and deeds.” (Paragraph 11)

It is a significant time commitment, but a great opportunity to connect with the church throughout Australia and to be involved in three very different experiences.

Posted by steve at 10:50 PM

Friday, March 28, 2014

Beyond Education: Exploring a Theology of the Church’s Theological Formation

I’m in Melbourne today and tomorrow as part of Beyond Education: Exploring a Theology of the Church’s Theological Formation, sponsored by the Uniting Church’s Centre for Theology and Ministry and the University of Divinity. The aim is to try and construct a theology of theological education. On Saturday I’m presenting a paper: Theological education in leadership formation (abstract here)

That has been the focus for much of my week. As part of my research, I compared our current 2014 Bachelor of Ministry degree, with our 2009 Bachelor of Ministry degree. Their have been significant changes, as this table shows

In other words, in 2009, we changed our name, from Parkin Wesley College to Uniting College for Leadership and Theology. Sometimes changes in name are simply cosmetic, a rebranding in which the ingredients remain the same. Looking at the Bachelor of Ministry, we see significant change, including

  • A new stream structure that has brought to the fore leadership and formation.
  • More options through specialisations.
  • Space created for formation (4 new topics in SFE and Integration) through the change of 7 topics (in theology, Bible and Pastoral care) from compulsory to optional
  • New topics written especially in leadership and Discipleship and Christian Education
  • Opportunity for “have a go” innovation through BMin practice, with increased SFE and the use of context as primary.

In the second half of my paper I will then ask whether these changes suggest it is either theological education
or
leadership formation. Or using the work of cultural theorist Mieke Bal (Anti-Covenant) and theologian Graham Ward (Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice), this allows theological education in leadership formation.

Posted by steve at 10:06 AM

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Learning and Teaching Theology: Some Ways Ahead

Delighted first with the news this week that my chapter “Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning” has been accepted to be published by Mosaic Press later this year. Edited by Les Ball, titled Learning and Teaching Theology: Some Ways Ahead, the book will publish papers delievered at the conference in Sydney last year on teaching and learning theology.

Delighted second that the chapter was accepted with no revisions needed. That’s a huge relief.

Delighted third to be able to find some space in a pretty busy life to have been able to reflect, over 6000 words, on so many of the changes we’re exploring here at Uniting College – in blended learning and in flipped classrooms. This chapter was my asking Why? Why are we doing this? Not why technically or economically but why theologically?

Delighted mainly, because the September conference was the first major conference I spoke at after Dad died. As I returned to finally edit the chapter last week, emotionally I was taken right back to Dad, to the days of his death. I was back writing in grief. So this chapter is dedicated to my Dad, a teacher who taught me so much.

Here’s the abstract of the chapter:
This chapter argues that e-learning is a theological necessity.

Four themes, of theological teaching as embodied in “living libraries,” as nurturing hospitable space, as verbal driven in pedagogy and as cultivating communities of inquiry are outlined. Within each of these themes, a dialogue is conducted between Luke 5:1-11, Transforming Theology and e-learning literature.

The argument is than applied specifically to the task of teaching and learning, with three categories of pedagogical design grounded in a case study of a recent Introduction to Theology class.

Finally, a theological note is made regarding the implications when the Incarnate One is read as the Ascended One. This suggests that the move, from face to face, to digital at distance, is actually a following of the trajectory of Jesus, the miracle of Resurrection and Ascension in which both place and space are redefined. Or in the words of this project, transformed theologically.

Posted by steve at 10:15 PM

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pioneering Plan B: bite-sized education?

Last Friday, I was contemplating a pioneering disaster.

Last Friday, we only had one student enrolment for the March 17-21 Pioneering intensive with Dave Male. Despite a range of advertising, despite Dave being well known in South Australia, I was contemplating the difficulty involved in offering a decent educational experience to a class of one.

It was time for plan B. Annoying at the time, but in hindsight, totally consistent with a course on pioneering! We had shaped the original intensive with Dave to run mornings and evenings. So on Friday we decided to drop the mornings. Instead we will use the time to work one on one with Dave, designing a blended learning distance Pioneering package. What this will mean is that any person, any candidate, can study Pioneering with us at any time in the years ahead, rather than simply by intensive when Dave Male is in town. Which will be a really exciting addition to our Bachelor of Ministry degree, a permanent topic in Pioneering! (A first in Australia I think.) So that was the first part of Pioneering Plan B.

The second part of Pioneering Plan B was to take the existing week long evening programme and offer it in bite-sized chunks. Same topics. But advertise it not as a week, but as bite-sized. Come to one evening or more. Even all four.

The third part of Pioneering plan B was to emphasise that the existing evening programme is not about content but conversation. Rather than lecture, we are offering worship, drink and a story. Four stories actually, of women exploring pioneering in different ways. Which will start a conversation about the issues, the resources, what we are learning about innovation, leadership, mission and church. All stimulated by Dave and by all those who participate.

Some five days later, we have 13 18 20 RSVP’s. Which is a quite a turnaround from the solitary one.

It’s really got me thinking. What was the difference? The personal invite email? The fact the evenings are being offered for free? The deliberate naming of a shift from content to conversation? The shift to bite-sized, with folk able to give an evening, but not a week?

I’m looking forward to doing some market research but I suspect the biggest factor is the latter, the offer of bite-sized education. That one week is too much, but an evening (of four for some) is do-able. Which raises some intriguing questions for education in general. What might it mean to modularize a syllabus, to go bite-sized?

And the one enrolment? They are delighted at our flexibility. They will get some focused 1 on 1 time with Dave Male at the start and end of the week, in order to establish some specifically tailored guided reading, all mixed in with some evenings of rich conversation to help their own processing.

And for those in Adelaide, it’s still not too late to RSVP to steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu dot au. Here’s the bite-sized programme, come to one, come to more … (more…)

Posted by steve at 09:37 PM

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jesus and popular culture

“the afterlife of the Bible has been infinitely more influential, in every way – theologically, politically, culturally, and aesthetically – than its ancient near-eastern prehistory.” (John Sawyer, 2004, 11)

I spent yesterday at Flinders, teaching in the Bible and popular culture course. The topic was Jesus and popular culture. Dan W. Clanton Jr., in The Bible in/and Popular Culture: A Creative Encounter explores the place of Jesus in American popular culture and argues that thinking about Jesus is thus not confined to the church. Anyone can seek to express Jesus and in so doing, can invite discussion about how accurate, helpful and ethical is their portrayal.

So I explored Jesus and popular culture under 5 headings, using some of the following examples.

1 – Jesus then: in original context – in films like Jesus of Nazareth and Passion of Christ

2 – Jesus now: Christ figures – in places like Narnia Chronicles or Jesus of Montreal or Harry Potter. This draws in particular on Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film.

3 – Jesus now: context - in which Jesus is placed in site specific contexts, like Manchester Passion or Baxter’s poem, The Maori Jesus.

4 – Jesus Elsewhere – in which Jesus is placed imaginatively in new world, like Deborah Bird Rose’s hearing of Ned Kelly being a Christ figure in some indigenous dream stories, or a comic series like Loaded, Jesus and Vampire gospels.

The term “elsewhere comes from DC Comic creator “heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places – some that have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t exist. The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow” (DC Comics Elseworlds)

5 – Jesus sarcastically - for example in Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, in which with quite some irreverence, Jesus is explored.

It is always a lot of work to bring a lecture together for the first time, but an enjoyable and rich experience.

Posted by steve at 08:13 AM

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

the ethics of education and ministry formation

Currently I’m team teaching a summer school topic (Bible and Culture) at Flinders University. It’s the first time in years that we as Adelaide College of Divinity/Uniting College have been able to teach actually on campus at Flinders. It’s a new topic and it’s been great to see Flinders get excited and in behind it.

Of the 17 students enrolled, at least 13 are non-Theology students. Which makes for a very different teaching experience. I’ve heard comments like “Who is Jacob?” when explore the live performances of Bullet the Blue Sky. Or “Did Jesus, if he lived, have long hair? Cos all the pictures say he has.”

In other words, presume nothing.

Yesterday, in preparing for class, I was reading Mieke Bal and her introduction in Anti-Covenant: Counter-Reading Women’s Lives in the Hebrew Bible (Library Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies). She begins by noting the place of the Bible in Western culture. “The Bible, as at least partially a religious document, has been formative of Western culture. The culture as it is today carries the Bible with it, as it carries the rest of its founding texts” (page 11). In other words, everyone can be involved in this interpretation of Biblical texts.

Her phrase “founding texts” has stayed with me. Being plural, it suggests other “founding texts.” Obviously other religions have other founding texts – Koran, First Testament – being examples. Thinking about Western culture, it seems to me that nations have “founding texts” not necessarily explicit or cogent, but surely celebrated in events like Australia Day, Anzac Day, Remembrance Day. Equally Western individualism and consumerism are again “founding texts” for our culture.

Bal then argues that the “text is one thing … its meaning is quite a different matter. Meaning … is a property of the act of reading.” (12-13) This then, can be applied to all texts, including all founding texts. So this brings into focus the role of the reader and the audience, who create meanings based on their prior experiences, values and attitudes. (Yes these are shaped by the founding texts, but they still exist separately, individually from the actual texts). She suggests that meaning is dynamic, a process, expressed in the phrase “moments of meaning”, present in both the text as a provider of meaning and the reader reading.

Further, Bal notes that rather than fall into a subjective, all readings are equal, or a imperialist, my reading is better, there still remains ways to question, and critique, ours and others meanings (“readings, without positivistic claims to truth.” (16)). She calls this the “ethical responsibility” of reading, that we need to reflect on how we read, the meanings we create, and their impact on ourselves, others, the earth. Specifically, she refers to the methods we use to read, and the nature of our discourse. Thus “every scholar of texts is a reader in the first place. Acknowledging that status, and accounting for the underlying guiding conventions, is a primary ethical responsibility for all scholars.” (15)

What these ethics might be remains open to question, but for Bal, this need for ethical responsibility keeps alive scholarship and justice.

Finally, Bal suggests that this need for “ethical responsibility” is especially important in relation to founding texts. In other words preaching the Bible. Or how Australia Day is named and practised.

Which helps me make sense of Bible and culture, and, more big picture, the task of education and ministry formation. It is about helping people to read their founding stories ethically. To develop the ability to think about how they use the Bible and it’s impact on others. To consider the discourse we create as we tell the narratives of an Anzac Day or Australia Day. To ponder the effect of individualism on people and planet.

This applies equally to those who use the Bible or who read a pop cultural text. It allows a wide range of people to sit in a class together, becoming more respectful of how to read, methods for reading, the discourse generated.

Such are my ponderings as I taught today, as we explored how U2′s live performance of Bullet the Blue Sky in Chicago was a reading of some founding stories – Jonny comes Marching home today, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Bible’s expression of desolation and lament.

Posted by steve at 09:50 PM

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

hi ho (to watch Lost and Banksy and U2)

It’s my first day back at work today.

And I get to spend it at Flinders, talking about movies, street art and concerts – more specifically Lost, Banksy and U2. It is part of an innovation, in which we are using the (new) Summer School window at Flinders, to offer courses on campus that might be of wider public interest.

So we quietly worked away last year, putting a new topic – Bible and Culture – through academic processes at Flinders.

It seems to have worked, of the enrolments, 12 are non-Theology students, which means a wider public engagement (and a much more diverse and interesting class-room).

So today I spend the morning teaching, talking about the “and culture” part of a topic called Bible and culture. I’ll chat about how I became a film reviewer and the tools I use to do that year after year, from a theology slant. We’ll look at the rise of popular culture and ways to understand the ongoing presence of Christianity in culture.

All while watching Lost and looking at Bansky and considering Bono’s hand gestures!

Posted by steve at 08:27 AM

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

working with the New Zealand Presbyterians

Sitting on an outdoor bench at the bach/shack yesterday, it was lovely to be interviewed by Angela Singer from the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand communications department.

Angela wanted to chat, following up an invitation to me to be the key note speaker at the next General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. The Assembly happens every two years, for five days, from October 3rd to 7th 2014. I’ve been asked to offer three key note sessions, engaging with the theme of Inspiring Mission.

So we talked – about why me, about what I might say, about my knowledge of the Presbyterian church in New Zealand and about whether a new initiative, a move to table group format, would help or hinder my communication style.

I’ve also said yes to being part of Offspring. This will another new thing for the Assembly. It will involve a stream, open to anyone in the church, offering resourcing in mission. It is planned to run alongside the business sessions on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. (What a choice – business or mission resourcing?) It will have a similar format to what I was part of in October earlier this year, with a theme of story telling – learning from local stories about mission and innovation.

Posted by steve at 09:04 AM

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bible and pop culture summer school intensive

Posted by steve at 10:11 AM

Friday, October 25, 2013

The e-learning version of a Jesus call story (Luke 5:1-11)

Some recent writing I’m still quite pleased with …

I want to begin by contemporising Luke 5:1-11. While somewhat playful, I intend to make a more serious point as my argument unfolds.

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret the people were crowding around him … checking their facebook status and live tweeting updates as they were … listening to the Word of God.

[Jesus] got into one of the boats … Then he sat down and taught the people … by handing the disciples a Kindle, on which had been loaded core theology texts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and latest translations of the First Testament ….

Then Jesus said to Simon, Come follow me and … so he gave the disciples their moodle login and automated password. Upon login, they clicked on My courses and discovered they had been enrolled in a core topic – Discipleship. It came complete with course outlines for the next three years and powerpoints of the Sermon on the Mount. Assessment involved the completion of weekly forums, involving contemporary doing theology case studies. One involved a written response to a question asked by a rich young ruler, another an exercise in going ahead of Jesus looking for a donkey.

Plus, a bonus, a set of MP3’s. Titled Parables, they allowed students to be updated on Jesus latest adventures in storytelling.

Jesus had toyed with the idea of offering a MOOCS – Massive Open Online Course. Instead of a focus on the disciples, he had toyed with marketing his Discipleship course to the crowds, aiming for open access and large-scale interactive participation.

Sadly his treasurer had resisted, pointing out that it was better to give to poor than to fund the video lecture style pedagogy and a graphic novel, which, it was argued, would increase student retention of texts from the Apocraphya.

This was an introduction to my paper – Embodiment and Transformation in the context of e-learning – at the recent Teaching and Learning: Theology: The Way Ahead conference in Sydney. While at first glance my e-learning version of a Lukan “call story” might suggest the importance of face to face modes of discipleship, my intention was subversive. By placing the Incarnation as central, it applied me to argue that transforming theology can involve e-learning and online technologies. In other words, an attempt to be theological about transforming theology.

Posted by steve at 08:45 PM

Monday, September 30, 2013

a significant national encouragement

I spend Friday in Sydney, at the inaugural Learning and Teaching Theology: The Way Ahead conference. Hosted by Sydney College of Divinity, it is a follow up to the recently completed Transforming Theology project, which tested the claims of Australian theological colleges that they provided a transformative learning experience.

It attracted about 80 people, from theological colleges all around Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia. It was great to be at a conference discussing not what we teach, but how we teach, and thus to find common ground across disciplines.  I was there to give a paper – Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning. I had also been invited to be on a plenary panel of four, on the place of integration in theological education. I was also to be, quite unexpectedly, encouraged.

The opening address was by Dr Les Ball. His book Transforming Theology (Mosaic Resources, 2012) documents the recent research into the Australian theology sector. His conclusion is that the claims, by theological colleges, of offering transformation in education, were much ahead of the reality, based on student experience and analysis of curriculum. Despite all the social changes of the last 35 years, theological colleges remain remarkably uniform and remarkably unchanged.

During question time, he was asked if he had come across any signs of hope. He gave two examples. A new topic introduced at ACU called Community Engagement, in which all students have to participate in a community project.

And us! From Adelaide! The new Bmin at ACD taught by Uniting College. In Ball’s book, Transforming Theology, we get three mentions

  • Our philosophy of practical ministry preparation and engagement. “The teaching faculty have been strategically appointed to promote such a commitment.” (page 104)
  • The use of personal preliminary interviews. “This is not a case of granting credit for prior learning and thus shortening the course, but rather it is a matter of course planning to connect with actual experience, either past or projected.” (I wonder if he’s talking about our candidate Formation panel processes and our Bmin practice stream), (page 110)
  • the way we have altered radically our disciplines to reflect our developmental educational philosophy, in contrast to traditional departments of OT, NT, Theology, Church history … “a complete rethinking of the nature, the structure and the progression of content, skills, and formative elements, to facilitate a development in students.” (page 146-7)

It was a very encouraging moment, to hear our degree being affirmed, publicly, in front of 80 people from theological colleges around Australia. At the same time, it gave pause for ongoing reflection on where we, as Faculty, put our energies and focus.

Bachelor of Ministry – Promotional Video from Craig Mitchell on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 02:20 PM