Wednesday, July 01, 2015

innovation in teaching ANZATS paper

I presented my paper on innovation in teaching today at ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools). Over the last 4 weeks I have written about 7,000 words of what is now a complete first draft of a journal article. So the task for today was to try and communicate the argument and main structure in the 25 minute time limit – of around 2,500 words.

I began by rifting of a prayer offered as the conference began:

Let us pray that students in theological education may be equipped for ministry and for life. We pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy
Let us pray that all teachers may be creative in facilitating student learning. We pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy

My research engages with these prayers. How do students perceive our “theological education”? What is the impact on students of our “creative facilitating student learning”?

There were a good number present and the questions were helpful.

  • What incentives did I build in to ensure students undertook pre-reading?
  • What were the workload implications, not just this year but in years to come?
  • Tell us about the class size and age profile? Does a larger class change the possibilities?
  • Was anything lost as a result of the processes?

These were expected questions. They focus more on the how. How do you teach in the flipped classroom? My paper focused mainly on the why and what? Why would you and what are the results? But the how questions are important, pertinent and natural for the audience – educators. The task now is to take the complete draft and seek a journal article. My sense is that the argument is sound, but that I need a bit more depth around the referencing and some sentence smashing – working paragraphs and words to ensure clarity.

But first, I need to complete a complete 6,000 word draft by 1 September for the Ecclesiology and ethnography conference, on activist research.

Posted by steve at 06:06 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Open days: recruitment or community building?

Adult learners face a number of barriers. A set of inner voice are shouting “It will be like school. The lecturers are scarey. You might look stupid. You’re been out of education too long.” It takes courage to enrol as an adult to learn.

Admiring rare books in library

On Tuesday, we offered an Open Day at Uniting College and on a cold, wet night, about 35 folk gathered to learn more about the College. There were short introductions by key people leading Uniting College, Adelaide College of Divinity, Flinders University and the Big Year Out. Pizza arrived. Short tours were offered – of the library, student common room, of a classroom in action including our online platform.

lecture

As I looked around, I was struck by the range of animated conversations as prospective students talked to lecturers. It occurred to me that as a result of Open Day, when these students arrive for the first day of lectures, they will know some people to whom they can stop and have a chat. They will know where the classroom is and where to get a coffee.

open day 2

They are already surrounded by a set of relationships. Thus the task of building a learning community does not start with the first lecture of the first class. It starts from before the first enquiry, and as the student steps through application.

What we were doing at Open day was not recruiting. It was community building, increasing the capacity of adult learners to participate in their own formation.

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

We’re all men: gender in teaching mission

Monday I begin a four day intensive, teaching on Mission and the church. Much of this week has been spent building the online site – loading up readings, video clips, extra resources, web links – that will enhance the educational experience.

introduction to Mission and the Church from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Glancing at the class list yesterday, I shook my head in disbelief. The entire cohort, all 9 of the enrolled students, are male. And, if the surnames are in any way reliable, all white fella.

I can’t recall teaching an all male, white fella class. Ever. Certainly not in my experience in the Uniting Church, where one of the things I have most appreciated is the greater gender mix that is present, compared to my experience in Baptist Churches in New Zealand.

I am puzzled and disturbed. What to do?

I do have diversity built in through the readings, which include voices, male and female, and from Asia, Africa, Europe, United States, Australia and New Zealand. I do have guest presenters both male and female. I do have short spoken mission biographies to splice in at various points, of woman and indigenous. The stories of fresh expressions video clips are of women pioneers.

But that does not address the mono-cultural discussion that will inevitably result.

Cancelling the class does not seem fair on each individual who has enrolled. I suspect it is also not permissible in a higher education environment.

I don’t think I can suddenly find someone willing to give four days to participate in an intensive at such short notice. And it runs the risk of tokenism, asking one voice to speak for an entire culture or gender.

I wonder if I should, on the first morning, note the reality of our room. And then place three chairs at three points around the class. And suggest that every now and again, we pause and ask each other:

Now if a woman, or a first-nations person, or a migrant with English as a second language were present in our discussion, what might they be adding to our discussion? What might they be critiquing?

This runs the risk of transference. But at the heart of mission is a commitment to engage with the other. So three empty chairs might in fact provide an object lesson in lack.

Posted by steve at 11:57 AM | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A class above: Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context

I’ve spent much of the week, between various work meetings, working on a conference paper on innovation in teaching for the ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools) in Sydney. The original abstract proposal, which was accepted back in March, is here. I’ve re-worked the title from:

Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy

to:

A class above: Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context

The first title fitted the conference theme, but only worked “in-conference.” So the second title was written with an eye to finding a receptive journal down the track. It was composed as part of an exercise during a Flinders University professional development workshop Publish and flourish on Tuesday.

Tuesday and Wednesday mornings I drafted the methodology section, pulled from notes generated during early morning coffee meetings with my Community of Practice cohort last year.

Today I edited in some of the results. These were originally written at the Tel Aviv airport in September last year, stuck in baggage claim, waiting for a baggage collectors strike to end!

Then, in emailing a colleague asking if they could provide a critical read of a complete first draft, I found myself having a first attempt at the conclusion.

My main argument is that the learning shifts implemented in the Theology of Jesus class resulted in a significant shift in student experience, from an anticipation of content, to considered reflection on the process of how learning happens. In that shift, the class dynamic and the diversity among the student cohort became much more appreciated by the student cohort as factors in their learning. In other words, students became essential to the learning processes. If the call of Jesus to “come follow” is a call to transformation that is set in the context of relationships of learning, then the use of technologies, when underpinned by explicit pedagogical care, are essential elements in “re-humanising” learning. They can turn the entire student cohort into teachers, inhabiting different roles in the “conditions” of learning.

It is amazing where one finds oneself writing – desks at home, cafe tables, University lecture rooms, work desks once the corridor goes quiet, polished floors in the no-mans land that is baggage claim. (And no doubt the hotel accomodation in Sydney the night prior to paper delivery on 1 July).

Posted by steve at 06:51 PM

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Mission and the church: a welcome

I’m teaching an intensive soon on Mission and the Church (June 14-18).

Over the last few days, I’ve been building the course online. I love this part of teaching – the design that frames and structures the learning, the readings that allow a range of diverse and global voices to fill out the design, the finding of video clips that provide stimulus, story and colour. Our Blended Education Design Co-ordinator used the word “curate” this week to describe Online learning and it made so much sense. This is not written distance as in full production of a linear script. This is a range of resources within which a learner can click, play, browse, engage, interact.

Anyhow, today as part of building the course online I also shot a simple video for the Welcome page. Not flash, not high tech, but so that students as they first visit the site get to see see me, hear my voice and sense my animation.

introduction to Mission and the Church from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 09:10 PM

Monday, May 18, 2015

growing leaders by growing teachers

Now I know they will be read, I’ll do a better job!

Uniting College exists to grow life-long disciples and develop effective leaders in mission. In order to do that, we must begin by growing ourselves. This includes our skills and abilities as teachers.

Here’s one way this process works for us at Uniting College. Most higher education involves student evaluations. These are completed by students. The results are summarised and provided back to lecturers. Generally this is where the process stops. The feedback is useful. But what happens next? How do you encourage intentional growth as teachers?

First, along with the student evaluations, each lecturer is also provided with a response sheet, which they are invited to fill in. It has four questions.

  • Summarise the positive responses
  • What concerns did students raise about their learning in this unit?
  • What improvements will you make to address these concerns?
  • Any other comments or quality improvements for unit curriculum, teaching and learning?

Four simple questions that invite us as teachers into appreciative inquiry and to think more intentionally about how we can grow as teachers. The four questions that can be answered as simply, or as deeply, as an individual wishes too. The questions invite us as teachers to think about growth. Lecturers are invite to return these to myself as Principal.

Second, I read them. I reply to each one. I affirm the strengths I see, celebrating the commitment to the skill and craft of teaching I see. I provide comment on the concerns raised, sometimes suggesting they are being too hard on themselves, sometimes inviting deeper reflection. I remark on the desired improvements, noting trends I am observing – themes that emerge across the range of topics an individual teaches. 

I am wanting to individualise and contextualise, to let each lecturer know I care about their craft of teaching. Some of these emails replies are over two pages in length, as I engage with their desire for growth.

Third, all these individual email responses that I make to lecturers are de-identified and summarised. This report goes to our Ministry Studies meeting. As an entire teaching team, we consider the report. It is a snapshot of our collective strengths as a teaching team. It is a mirror on potential areas for growth. Together we wonder what we might do as shared and appropriate professional development.

Fourth, this information is fed back to students. They who have taken the time to provide feedback, are informed about actions that are being taken as a result of their feedback. We hope it encourages them by saying something about our commitment to grow as teachers.

It was this process that took up a good deal of my time today. It was this process that generated the comment with which I started this post; “Now I know they will be read, I’ll do a better job!” Because growing leaders begins by growing teachers.

Posted by steve at 09:25 PM

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mission and the Church “more information please”

I’m teaching a 4 day Mission and the Church intensive here in Adelaide, 16-20 June. Someone asked this week for more information, to which I responded:

I will focus the 4 days around 7 disciplines of mission (based on some integrative work by Bishop Steve Croft, former Fresh expressions Director, after he spent 3 weeks with the Catholic Archbishops in Rome talking 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)

So there will be an introductory morning around what is mission. Then a half day each per discipline. I am using this framework in order to focus on mission as practise based, an integration of theory and practice.

The 5th day will be done in the persons own time. This will involve visiting a case study of their choosing, from around their context, in order to explore a grounded example of mission.

The assignments will focus around

  • the preparing of a set of Lenten Bible studies based on the WCC new statement on Evangelism and Mission (2012). This will ensure linkage with the most up to date mission thinking of the global church, in a way that is useful for ongoing leadership in mission in the church
  • a mission storytelling from across cultures. Each participant will be given a missionary from another time/culture and will be invited to “tell their story”. Again, this will provide a relevant resource for those involved in leadership in mission
  • applying learning to a case study, in which the course input and attached reading will be integrated

The classes will be shaped interactively. I will come with some stuff, but will work to ensure that needs of the participants will be a shaper of the direction of the class.

I will be involving two visiting lecturers, in order to broaden and enrich the experience. One  has completed PhD study on congregations and agencies and how those relationships might be enhanced. They will help us explore the discipline of incarnational mission, with particular application to how social justice and mission projects integrate with the life of the inherited church.

The other is doing PhD study on people coming to faith in Australia today. They will use this data to help us explore evangelism, by weaving in their cutting edge research into conversion today.

I want to find a way to reference every single thing I’ve written while in Australia in the last 5 and a half 5 years, so that an integrating thread through the time is my own mission thinking, whether in indigenous communion practices, community gardens, U2 concerts or art and spirituality spaces.

For more information or to enrol, contact the Adelaide College of Divinity.

mission of church updated

Posted by steve at 05:18 PM

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

mission and the church intensive

I’m teaching a four day intensive on mission, June 15-18. It’s placed deliberately just prior to Presbytery and Synod, hoping to make it easier to access as study leave for ministers in placement. I will focus on seven practices of mission, with the use of case studies to ground and enrich.

mission of church updated (Updated 7/5 – After considerable mirth by my colleagues, my title has been updated from Dry to Dr.)

It will be the last intensive I’m likely to teach in Australia in my current season as Missiologist and Principal of Uniting College. So I’m hoping it will be a rich “teaching” swansong and an opportunity to pull together my missional reflection that has emerged in the last 5 years grounded in Australian soil.

Posted by steve at 06:48 PM

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Place-based theology

On Friday I sat listening to a PhD thesis being read. I was outdoors. The sky was cloudless and I was 8 hours drive away from the Uniting College classrooms at 34 Lipsett Terrace.

outdoors I was part of Walking on Country, an experience we offer at Uniting College, in order to ensure our candidates have an immersion experience in indigenous cultures.

But this year we worked to ensure the experience could also double as Towards Reconciliation, a unit in the Bachelors programmes we offer (as part of either the Flinders Bachelor of Theology or Adelaide College of Divinity Bachelor of Ministry). Hence a PhD thesis being read in the outdoors, under blue sky, rather than in the classroom, seated around desks and screens.

The research we were hearing was work done by Tracey Spencer on the history of Christian mission in South Australia. It is brilliant work – exhaustive, incisive and original in offering a post-colonial perspective on mission today. I’ve used it in my own work on indigenous communion practices (in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific (Postcolonialism and Religions)). And it was being engaged at the exact spot were the mission was enacted. .

It struck me as an example of place-based education. The term developed in the 1990′s and is used to describe learning that is rooted in what is local—the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place.

Place-based is not context-based. Context based seeks to learn within a student’s existing work context. The focus is delivery in situ, which is meant to enhance application and integration. Place-based affirms the local, not the local of the learner, but the local around particular place.

Walking on country from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Place-based theology meant that over the four days we visited place after place. We heard the stories. We walked the land in which the actions had happened. We discussed. We imagined we were one of the people we were hearing about, and then considered the implications for Gospel and culture, for tradition and innovation. Surrounded by reading and assessment, by being place-based, a very different education experience emerged.

As I drove home, I wonder what else in Christian theology could be place based?

Posted by steve at 10:25 PM

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy

I’ve just submitted the following abstract for a theology conference later this year. It emerges from my teaching last year and my participation in a Flinders University Community of Practice during which I did research, seeking student feedback on the changes I was making – in particular implementing flipped learning and making a focus on indigenous Christologies. It’s good to take the next step, from doing research, to presenting research

Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy

One way to “revalue” the worth of the lives we teach is to examine the pedagogies we employ. Educational research reminds us that all pedagogies speak, offering a “hidden curriculum.” What are the truths expressed in the “babble of information” that originates from our teaching? Is e-learning a pandering toward “endless opportunities for self-gratification”?

This paper will explore pedagogical innovation in teaching. Participation in a Flinders University Community of Practice in 2014 provided an opportunity to research student experience when teaching is approached as mobile, accessible and connective.

A core topic (Theology of Jesus Christ) was taught using e-learning technologies, including video conferencing and Moodle. Blooms taxonomy was used as a theoretical frame to negotiate the change with students and the shift in contact time from lecturer-driven content to student-centred small group activities. Changes were made to assessment, shifting participation from face to face to digital, in order to enable connectivity. Indigenous voices were introduced to enhance access.

Students completed a written survey at three points during the course. The results demonstrate that a significant shift had occcured in the class, with students moving from an appreciation of content, to a consideration of how they learn from the diversity inherent among their peers. Students felt the changes enhanced their ability to communicate effectively, appreciate collaborative learning and connect across boundaries.

Haythornthwaite and Andrews (E-learning Theory and Practice, 2011) map the diverse ways students participate in class to enhance learning. This provides a way to theorise my data, including the student who believed they could “now connect [their] own culture and Christ”; because they were asked in a group “by one of my classmates to connect liberation theology to [their] culture.”

This suggests that the pedagogies we deploy do indeed have the potential to “revalue” the worth of the lives of those we teach.

Posted by steve at 03:42 PM

Sunday, January 25, 2015

five year work anniversary

Linkedin congratulated me a few days ago on my work anniversary. Which led to a lovely comment from Aaron Chalmers, Head of School of Ministry, Theology and Culture at Tabor, Adelaide.

“Congrats and well done Steve! You have really made a positive contribution to ministry / theological training here in Adelaide.”

It was five years since I walked in the door at Uniting College. I perched in a temporary office for six months while a colleague prepared for sabbatical. I was given four courses to teach, which I realised after about a month was actually a full years work in the space of six months. It was in a different culture, which I had underestimated in thinking about the transition. In my first class I followed the rules I’d been told, regarding no food in class, which led to a candidate, telling me that while the place had rules, no lecturer had ever enforced that them! The upshot was a negotiation by which they drank their precious cup of coffee just outside the classroom with the door open so they could hear the lecture!

But God was good and the College was in such an exploring, outward space. There was so much room to innovate – the Missional masters, the pioneering stream within the newly worked BMin, the development of mission-shaped ministry, both in Adelaide and nationally through Australia. There were some post-graduate students with really interesting questions they wanted to explore.

A work anniversary in which I’m deeply thankful.

Posted by steve at 10:32 AM

Friday, January 23, 2015

The use of Psalm 23 in the TV series Lost

(This is part of a lecture I gave in Bible and Popular culture, in which I explore reception history, the way Bible texts are re-presented in different cultural forms over time).

Lost ran over six years (series).  In this episode from the second series, titled “The Twenty Third Psalm,” we are introduced to the back story of a character, Mr Eko. It involves his past in Nigeria and a number of times and ways in which he “walks through the valley of the shadow of death.” First, as he acts to save (be a shepherd for) his younger brother from Nigerian guerillas, later as he seeks to use his brother, now grown, and a Catholic priest (a shepherd) to export drugs.

The episode is laced with religious imagery. Both Eko and Charlie carry religious symbolism. Eko has a piece of wood which he has called his “Jesus stick” which is marked with Scripture. Charlie carrys a Virgin Mary statue which is filled with heroin.

So in plot and character, the episode is an intriguing example of reception history, of the search for salvation in the very dark places of human experience. Karl Jacobson, argues that “in the various musical and theatrical encounters with Ps 23, an interpretive and pedagogical force that wrestles the psalm out of any flat or smooth reading and presses it into the service of disbelieving faith, seeking trust.”[1] This is what is happening in Lost. The words on a page are given contemporary relevance.

The episode ends with Charlie and Eko the saying of Psalm 23. Eko is the leader, yet is joined, falteringly by Charlie. Both men have difficult relationships with their brothers, tied together by drugs. Bringing them together allows them to face their failures, to experience “their souls restored.”

When we engage in reception history, is it possible that the pop culture readings might in fact read insight back into the text. We see this in this episode, which starts with a discussion of two brothers – Aaron and Moses. They are brothers in the Exodus story.

As the episode proceeds, we see more brothers. The difficult relationships experienced by Charlie and Eko invite us to consider the relationship between Aaron and Moses, to pull it “out of any flat or smooth reading.” In what ways might the Biblical characters have wrestled with each other?

The ending, as Psalm 23 is said together by Eko and Charlie, involves inter-cutting of scenes with other characters from Lost. The actions and interplay are each an acting out of the Psalm, not as per the Bible but in the contemporary world created in Lost.

The fish, given on the beach, is an offer of peace between people previously estranged. (a table before me, in the presence of my enemies). Lost is a mysterious island, a place of valleys of death. Yet perhaps, if these people act toward each other in forgiving and ennobling ways, is might indeed be a place of “goodness and mercy.” Heaven (the house of the Lord) is as real as these people might want to make it.

By paying attention to plot and character, this Lost epiosode does indeed provide “an interpretive and pedagogical force that wrestles the psalm out of any flat or smooth reading.”

[1]Karl Jacobson, “Through the Pistol Smoke Dimly: Psalm 23 in Contemporary Film and Song,” http://sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=796

Posted by steve at 06:49 PM

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mission and Community Service Intensive

A course I’m developing this year … Mission and Community Service Intensive

mission and community service

Explore the promise, possibilities and tensions in the relationship between mission, church and social service agencies in contemporary Australia. Can there be a place for Christian faith and historic identities in the contemporary funding climate? Must faith and spirituality live in contradiction? Are words and deeds mutually exclusive? How might professionalism, power and the prophetic be negotiated?

The course will utilise a practical theology model, seeking a critical, theological reflection on lived experience. This will involve a case study approach, through which questions are identified, and a dialogue created with current research.

The learning will occur in three phases:

  • Phase one – Sharing case studies. Four evenings, February 9-12, 7-9 pm.
  • Phase two – Reflecting. Participants will isolate a question emerging from a case study and undertake wider research.
  • Phase three – Workshop days. Participants will present their case study, sharing with one another, insights that have emerged as they have read and thought more widely, May 15-16, 9am-4:30pm (tbc)

Course facilitators will include Dr Steve Taylor, Rev Peter McDonald and Joanna Hubbard (tbc). Case studies presenters will include Dr Bruce Grindlay, Dr Ian Bedford (more to be confirmed). Options for enrolment include professional development, audit and credit.

Enrol at Student Services
P: 08 8416 8400
E: college dot divinity at flinders dot edu dot au

Venue: Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide.

Posted by steve at 11:29 AM

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mission and agencies in community service

A course I’m putting together for Semester 1, 2015.

This programme will explore the promise, possibilities and tensions in the relationship between mission, church and social service agencies in contemporary Australia.

Can there be a place for Christian faith and historic identities in the contemporary funding climate? Must faith and spirituality live in contradiction? Are words and deeds mutually exclusive? How might professionalism, power and the prophetic be negotiated?

The course will utilise a practical theology model, seeking a critical, theological reflection on lived experience. This will involve a case study approach, through which questions are identified, and a dialogue created with current research.

The learning will occur in three phrases

Phase one – Sharing case studies. Four evenings, February 9-12, 7-9 pm. (Venue: Pilgrim Uniting Church, Flinders Street, Adelaide.)

Phase two – Reflecting. Participants will isolate a question emerging from a case study and undertake wider research.

Phase three – Workshop days. Participants will re-present their case study, sharing with each other the insights that have emerged as they have read and thought more widely, May 15-16, 9 am-4:30 pm (tbc)

Course facilitators will include Dr Steve Taylor and Rev Peter McDonald. Case studies presenters will include Dr Bruce Grindlay, Dr Ian Bedford (more tbc). Options for enrolment (through Adelaide College of Divinity) include professional development, audit and credit.

Posted by steve at 07:44 AM