Sunday, November 09, 2014
teaching the “flipped” open table of Jesus
My Semester 2, Jesus Christ topic, came to an end this week. It ended as it began, with food. Every week for 13 weeks, soup has been offered. For two of the classes, the entire lesson was done around food. One week, as we talked about the open table of Jesus and the final week, as we reflected on our experiences together. In doing so, a very different dynamic has emerged among us. We have become community, shared being human, laughed, shared soup recipes.
The dynamic around soup had reinforced another change in class – a change in teaching methodology. I introduced flipped learning. Class readings and lecture notes were placed online and students were invited (expected) to come to class prepared to engage in activities together.
In order to encourage this, I provided two learning moments. First, a discussion around what type of individual behaviours would enhance our class learning as a group? This generated an informal set of expectations among us. Second, an introduction to how people learn. I offered Bloom’s taxonomy and suggested that the traditional lecture tended to keep class time focused on knowledge and comprehension (bottom half of the circle). However if reading was done prior, this would mean our class time together could be used to focus on analysis, synthesis and evaluation (top half of the circle). In order to help this, every class offered a choice of activities. Students could choose to check their comprehension, or to work with classmates in an activity of their choosing – analysis, synthesis or evaluation.
The result has been a vastly different learning environment. The class has been pushed in new ways and I’ve learnt a lot as a teacher.
To help us process the semester as we gathered the final time, I suggested reflection around three colours. Green, a moment of growth that had occurred in the class. Red, an emotion we wanted to express. White, any thing else we wanted to share.
It had been an extraordinary class. Alongside the flipped learning, we’ve also had to process tragedy. During the semester, a student in the class unexpectedly died. Healthy one week, fully participating, fully engaged. Then during the week, they suffered an out of the blue heart attack.
So the class has had to process this sudden gap. In some ways the soup and flipped learning have made the gap larger. We’d become more human, known each other in ways more vulnerable and real. Twenty heads facing a talking head lecturer would not have formed these levels of community. Equally, have formed community, we experienced greater pain. But because we were a community, we drew strength from each other, found a group ready to listen and pray.
Such is the “flipped” and open table of Jesus. More engaged. Perhaps even more painful. Yet more vulnerable, more supportive, more human, more prayerful.
Friday, October 24, 2014
the teaching challenge: theology
I wrote this recently, in response to a Flinders University request to explain why I teach, and how this applies in how I teach theology. (It is a few paragraphs by way of contextual introduction in what was a 5,500 word paper about evidence-based research I’m doing into the impact of flipped learning on the student experience).
Theology students are more likely to be part-time and mature in age. This presents a range of challenges including managing significant diversity within the classroom and working with a range of anxieties as mature age students return to study.
Theology is often closely tied with personally held beliefs. Some students are studying for a vocational role in their religious communities, while others study for interest. This presents some unique learning challenges. Students are being invited to engage critically with beliefs that at times they, or the communities to which they belong, are highly invested in.
In response, I seek to be a learner-centred educator. I believe that each student comes with a unique finger print and deserves space and processes to connect their existing life experience with the subject matter. People learn best when safe space is created, so a classroom of respect and appreciation of diversity is essential. Thinking aloud must be allowed.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
I fly tomorrow to New Zealand for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand Assembly. Apparently last year I was “an inspiring and well received speaker at the Press Go gathering in Wellington in October (2013).” So I was asked back for further involvement with the Church.
I have two roles. First, I’m the keynote speaker at the Assembly. Around their business meetings, I’m speaking three times for around 45 minutes on the theme Hospitality – Your place or mine. I will look at three Biblical texts (Luke 10, Luke 14, Luke 19), weaving in stories of mission and various interaction.
Second, I’m storytelling at Offspring. Offspring is a resourcing stream that runs alongside the business sessions. It’s a brilliant innovation, seeking to allow the church to gather not only around business but also around ministry. I’m be telling some global mission stories, that might help illuminate three local mission stories that are being told.
I phoned the worship leader, Malcolm Gordon, on Wednesday, to confirm a few things. I was astounded to be told that Malcolm has worked with a group of artists and creatives around the Biblical texts I’d said I’d be using. Poets have paraphrased the Biblical texts. Songwriters have written three original songs, one for each Biblical text. Artists have created art pieces, that will hang in the foyer during Assembly. All this creativity will be bound together in a booklet, to be given to folk at the end.
How about that in terms of engaging creatively with Biblical texts in mission?
It made me glad I didn’t change Biblical texts when I began some more detailed preparation last week!
I really enjoyed my time with the Presbyterian church this time last year, so hoping for a similar joy again.
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
interactive engagement trumps content delivery: research
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about teaching and learning. It began when I re-worked a recent presentation and instead designed a set of interaction exercises. Most loved it, one resisted it.
Friday I head for New Zealand to deliver three keynote addresses. Expecting an audience of around 500, I was warned today that people will be expecting speakers not engagers. So to expect some resistance.
I follow on twitter a number of education lecturers in the UK and US. It’s a great way of keeping up to date with new research and thinking. An article on research in interactive engagement in University classes caught my eye today.
They researched an engineering class of 158 students by dividing the class into three.
A self-assessment group completed homework, involving ten self-assessment activities uploaded online. These included challenging narrative and multiple-choice questions that required them to create, explain, and carry out calculations. Immediate feedback was provided, reinforced by lecturer feedback during class.
A collaborative learning group participated in discussions to gain a broad understanding of the activity and to learn from one another. This involved a cycle of 10 minutes lecture, followed by students being given five minutes to solve a problem and receive feedback from the instructor. This group did not receive any homework.
A control group received traditional instruction, with content provided through a PowerPoint presentation plus homework.
The results showed that interactive engagement (self-assessment and collaborative learning) improved students academic performance. Engaging in such activities was found to encourage students’ participation, because the activities stimulate their critical thinking, demand interactions with other students, and lead to more deep learning.
They conclude this presents the following challenges for teachers and students:
“Instructors must meet the challenge of designing activities that will inspire students’ inquisitiveness, develop their sense of capability, and give them opportunities to share their ideas with other students through group discussions. They also should ensure that students have enough time to spend on the tasks. Equally, students need to play their part by improving their level of self-efficacy and self-regulation.”
So there’s an encouragement: Less time working on my powerpoint and more time in designing interactional activities. Accompanied by the need for participants to play their part!
(The full article, by Malefyane Tlhoaele, Adriaan Hofman, Koos Winnips & Yta Beetsma (2014) The impact of interactive engagement methods on students’ academic achievement, Higher Education Research & Development, 33:5, 1020-1034, is available here.)
Monday, September 29, 2014
the weighted coin: inward
Over the last week, in between speaking of Fresh Words and Deeds to a group of ministers in Jerusalem, I’ve been marking assignments.
They are the consequence of my teaching a week long intensive in Sydney in July, titled Mission, evangelism and apologetics. In being invited to teach, it has provided me with a very lifegiving opportunity to think again about how the local church might be effective in mission.
In preparation, I designed the following assessment.
You are to prepare a set of four Lenten studies on mission for your home church. Each study must engage at least one biblical text and the introduction to World Council of Churches statement re mission and evangelism.
Four reasons. First, I wanted students to show me how their understanding of mission might be grounded in the local church.
Second, most of them will lead churches that offer a discipleship opportunity in Lent. So it would be an assessment likely to be directly useful in ministry.
Third, I wanted to expose the students to the best of contemporary missiology. In 2013, the World Council of Churches agreed to a new statement – Together towards life: mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. It is the first statement produced by the WCC since 1982. In the last thirty two years, a lot has changes in the world, and a lot of fresh thinking on mission has emerged.
Fourth, reading the statement, I was surprised with how radical, challenging, theologically and Biblical it was. It is affirming of fresh expressions and surprisingly forthright regarding verbal proclamation of faith. For example regarding fresh expressions ;
“Today’s changed world calls for local congregations to take new initiatives. For example, in the secularizing global north, new forms of contextual mission, such as “new monasticism”, “emerging church”, and “fresh expressions”, have re-defined and re-vitalized churches. (72)
And regarding evangelism:
Evangelism”, while not excluding the different dimensions of mission, focuses on explicit and intentional articulation of the gospel, including “the invitation to personal conversion to a new life in Christ and to discipleship (85).
Overall the assignments were of a pleasing quality. All located four Bible texts and engaged them from a missional perspective. All identified a clear local context and all worked constructively with the WCC document. A pleasing number offered multi-sensory approaches, including film clips, indigenous cultural references, community walks and grounding stories.
One of the students made a comment that fascinating me, and tied in directly with an interactive session I did in Jerusalem. They commented that they had always seen Lent as set aside to look inward. So could they do something in Lent that invited people to look outward.
It was for me a reminder of the current imagination of the church in general, the gravitational pull of Sunday services and gathered worship. It feels to me like the church has a weighted coin. Everytime we toss it up, it lands “inward.”
Mission and worship are two sides of the same coin, but we need proactive strategies and courageous intentionality to restore a pendulum balance. Hopefully, assignments like this – Lenten studies on mission are – a step in a more missional direction.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
out of office: Istanbul and Israel
I’m on the road for the next few weeks.
I’m speaking in Jerusalem, at the Uniting Church National Ministers Conference. Prior to that, I’m taking a few days to recover from jet lag. This will be Istanbul, where Europe meets Asia, tasting an immense history.
I have thought very little about it, given the intensity of the last few weeks.
But it is probably the perk of my year, so when I get there, I am sure I will enjoy it.
I will be travelling with my partner, who for some reason, felt she really needed to join with me on this particular trip. That is one thing I have very much been looking forward to!
Friday, September 12, 2014
a college of passion
Twice this week I’ve been told that a Uniting College lecture is full of passion.
First, a visitor. A successful local business person, dropping in to see “what happens”? And at half-time, looking the lecturer in the eye and thanking them for their passion.
Second, a lecturer. Inviting guests to share of their ministry. Glad, at lecture’s end, of the passion. And how it infected the students, shaped the tutorial, infected the ongoing learning of the class.
What is interesting is that passion is a core value at Uniting College. You know those vision statements, destined to sit at the bottom of a pile of papers? Well, the vision statement of Uniting College includes passion:
To develop life-long disciples and effective leaders for a healthy, missional Church, who are:
So, somehow, passion has snuck out of our vision statement, leapt of the page and seeped into how classes. How?
I asked this question at our team yesterday. What does passion mean for us? And how has it leaked into our life?
And so together we talked as a team.
- is it because we care for our students? We’re not just about our research, we’re also about the people who come to learn and grow with us
- is it because we’re shaped by suffering? That in each of us as lecturers, there has been a personal learning, a vulnerability
- it is because we’re authentic? We want to walk our talk. We want what we say about faith, about ministry, about life, to be lived in us and livable through us.
- is it because we’re sacrificial? Many of us have been paid better elsewhere. We’ve taken pay reductions to work here, because we believe in the Kingdom, believe in what we’re doing.
- is it because we’re whole-bodied? The creative act invites us to take risks, to offer ourselves in risk into our projects, our lectures, our classes.
Passion. In us. In all of us as a team. In our life. Snd so in our lectures. And please, in God’s grace, in our students.
Thursday, September 04, 2014
Learning and Teaching
Order forms for Learning and Teaching Theology – Some Ways Ahead arrived today.
The book is a companion volume to Transforming Theology. Student Experience and Transformative Learning in Undergraduate Theological Education. That book is awesome, detailed research across numerous higher educational providers of theological awards in Australia. To consolidate the research, the Sydney College of Divinity hosted a conference in 2013 to promote further scholarly thinking on the learning and teaching of theology. That conference has in turn engendered a number of essays by contemporary scholars and practitioners at the leading edge of Australian and New Zealand theological education, now gathered into this volume, which presents some contemporary thinking and innovative practices in the field and so encourages further such development within the theological community.
Book chapters include -
Nancy Ault: Assessing Integrative Learning and Readiness for Ministry. Can There be Common Ground?
Les Ball: Where Are We Going? Questioning the Future of Learning and Teaching Theology
Robert Banks: Paul as Theological Educator. His Original Legacy and Continuing Challenge
Felix Chung: Chinese Theological Education in Australia. The Way Ahead
Tim Cooper: Transformative Learning in Church History
Darren Cronshaw and Andrew Menzies: From Place to Place. A Comparative Study of 5 Models of Workplace Formation at 2 Colleges on 1 Campus
Charles de Jongh: The Contribution of Theories of Multiple Intelligences to the Promotion of Deep Learning through the Assessment of Learning
Dan Fleming and Peter Mudge: Leaving Home. A Pedagogy for Theological Education
Denise Goodwin: A Practical Approach for Teaching Foundational Theology. Inquiry–Based Learning and the Matrix of Ideas Process
James R Harrison: Paul and the Ancient Gymnasium. Research Paradigms for “Academic Citizens” of the New World
Richard Hibbert and Evelyn Hibbert: Addressing the Need for Better Integration in Theological Education. Proposals, Progress, and Possibilities from the Medical Education Model
Diane Hockridge: Making the Implicit Explicit. Exploring the Role of Learning Design in Improving Formational Learning Outcomes
Neil Holm: An Analysis of “Soul” as the Central Construct in Dirkx’s and Ruether’s Transformative Learning Theory
Murray House: Cross-cultural Mission as a Transformative Learning Experience. A Report
EA Judge: Higher Education in the Pauline Churches
Jude Long: Nungalinya College – Empowering Indigenous Christians
Kara Martin: Theology for the iGeneration
Stephen Smith and Leon O’Flynn: Responding to Complexity. Moving from Competence to Capability
Isaac Soon: Video Game Design and the Theological Classroom. Gamification as a Tool for Student-Centred Learning
Steve Taylor: Embodiment and Transformation in the Context of e-Learning
I ordered copies of Learning and Teaching Theology – Some Ways Ahead for each of the Faculty. We’ll use it at as professional development, read a chapter and discuss it together monthly as a way of helping us think about teaching and learning.
Why? It’s contemporary. It’s reflection on action. It’s a local (Australasian) resource. It’s got a chapter by me! (Embodiment and Transformation in the Context of e-Learning). It’s another way for us as lecturers in focus on Year of the Student.
Monday, August 25, 2014
Jesus on the Gold Coast
I’m teaching a three day intensive on Jesus at Newlife Church, Robina, on the Gold Coast, in November 11-13, 2014.
Theology of Jesus – This topic combines biblical, historical, doctrinal and contemporary approaches to Jesus Christ and to salvation in Christ. Special attention will be paid to the missional Jesus, in popular culture and in encounters with other faiths.
Lecturer – Rev Dr Steve Taylor – Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology and Senior Lecturer, Flinders University. Church planter, church leader and author, Out of Bounds Church? and blogger (www.emergentkiwi.org.nz)
Here is a little video that I shot a few weeks ago, to introduce Jesus and the course to students.
Date – November 11-13th, 2014
Time – 7 hours a day, 9-5 pm with hour for lunch (12:30-1:30 pm)
Where – Newlife Church
How to Register – Contact Lynda Leitner (lynda dot leitner at flinders dot edu dot au) at Adelaide College of Divinity (phone 08 8416 8400) and ask to enrol in MINS 2314 or relevant post-graduate code
Cost - $1341 (undergraduate credit); $1665 (postgraduate credit); $300 audit undergraduate; $400 audit postgraduate
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
How to read better: 4 general tips to reading better
A resource I gave to a class, trying to help them think not only about what they are reading, but how they are reading. It also allowed me to introduce some foundation tools in theology.
1. Start at the end
You never start a book/chapter/excerpt at the beginning. You always go to the end. First, that is where the conclusion is and that gives you the big picture. Second, since most people start at the beginning and often don’t quite have time to finish, you can more easily stand out from the crowd.
2. Think in pencil or red pen
As you read, always be recording your own work. This is what you are going to get credit for in an assignment/conversation. You want to be ticking what you agree, underling a reference you might want to chase further, noting a question you have, writing a connection you make.
When you come to write or to talk in a group, you don’t want to be scrambling through pages going “now where is it?” You want to quickly find your own work and say, “Well on page x where it says, I made me think of (last week’s lecture, something I read last week”
3. Write a summary in your own words
The best way to see if you can remember something is to use your own words. Try, in a few sentences to catch the major outline of the work. This also then stands you in great stead when you come to your assignments, because you can then turn them into a summary in your own words.
4. Know your tools
Every reading will probably have something you don’t fully understand or can’t quite recall. To help you read, you need to be able to understand words that are new or you’ve forgotten. It can also be helpful to place the reading in context or to read some actual words of original authors.
When it comes to theology, here are four tools I find helpful:
- Big picture – McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought
- Original sources – McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader
- Definitions – Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IVP Bible Dictionary)
Thursday, July 31, 2014
best start to my class ever
I’m teaching an evening class this Semester. It begins at 6 and ends at 8 pm. It runs the danger that those arriving from work will be hungry and that attention levels will be flagging by the end. For those with a class prior, there’s an awkward time of waiting.
So I decided I’d offer soup. A quick email to all participants, saying that soup and bread would be available in the student common room from 5:30 pm.
We have no facilities for cooking, but who needs an oven when you have a crock pot, filled with pumpkin and simply turned to high two hours prior.
By 5:30 pm, about half the class had gathered. We were sitting around a table, pushed together. Bowls were being filled, compliments were being exchanged. Introductions were being made, banter was being exchanged, the warmth of humanity was emerging. Students were meeting me as “Steve the soup maker” seated at table, rather than Steve the lecturer, standing at the front of class.
By the time we entered the classroom, a culture had been created. There was a relational connection, a sense of community, that no amount of first hour class dynamics would have the hope of achieving.
It’s the first time I’ve offered food and I was for me a very significant lesson in my teaching experience.
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!
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.
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.