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Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Demographic and societal shifts in religion—to say nothing of higher education challenges—gnaw at North American theological education. The turbulence around the religious and educational environment is constant, and the essays in this volume acknowledge these challenges while exploring methods to move forward. The essays were written by seminary presidents and university leaders of various traditions to honor Daniel Aleshire, longtime executive director of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). The first four essays address the challenges faced by theological schools while the final two essays examine the rise of non-Christian traditions in North America. Outside of the six essays, a helpful introduction provides coherence to the book, while the honoree of the volume supplies an afterword.
The first two essays by David Tiede and Martha Horne soberly name the disruptions around theological education. Tiede raises four pressing challenges and how Lutherans (ELCA) are addressing them: the digitization and marketing of everything; the cost/debt spiral; the need for leadership change; and the focus on educational results. Horne provides a call for change through the story of Desmond Tutu’s awakening to how theology is shaped by different historical, sociological, and cultural contexts. This should drive an ability for Anglican comprehensiveness, anchored in communion, worship, and mission, that allows for theological inquiry and debate.
Donald Senior focuses on the type of Roman Catholic seminary candidate needed for the emerging needs of this world. Priestly formation from the work of Pope John Paul II roots this vision and is then joined with values from Pope Francis’s vision of the joy of the gospel, care for creation, and mercy. While other essays focus on curriculum or mission, Senior calls for a counter-cultural vision for theological education embodied through its people.
Evangelical pragmatism and its aversion to seminary training is the focus of Richard Mouw’s essay. Mouw encourages theological schools to listen to concerns and questions of those in ministry. Theological educators must make the case for theological education, but must do so with an empathetic spirit throughout the conversation.
The final two essays by Douglas McConnell and Judith Berling examine multifaith engagement and its implications for pedagogical concerns. McConnell grapples with how to engage a multifaith context from an evangelical framework. He calls for convicted civility rooted in hospitality and illustrates this through an institutional case study. Berling traces the history of multifaith theological education in mainline seminaries and explores ongoing opportunities and challenges. She raises the many ways that tradition can be both understood and shaped; this flexibility in tradition should aid in classroom pedagogy and interreligious learning.
The volume as a whole encourages faculty, administators, stakeholders, and institutions to discern their core identity and mission. This, in turn, should drive what doctrines/affirmations and practices of life are central to a school’s tradition. While not prescriptive in methodology, the essays provide a quick read for busy stakeholders that can foster reflective dialogue on mission, tradition, and vision.
Integrating Work in Theological Education
Date Reviewed: October 18, 2017
Digital Didactical Designs: Teaching and Learning in CrossActionSpaces
Date Reviewed: August 9, 2016
Digital Didactical Design is neither a step-by-step guide for developing educational curriculum, nor a compendium of creative teaching methodologies tweaked by the latest digital technologies. It is, however, a thought-provoking treatise aimed at educational institutions, teachers, and decision-makers in need of a better understanding of learning in a digital world. Readers are reminded that “instead of focusing too much on new technology-driven designs or content design” (13) attention should be placed on developing Digital Didactical Design that facilitates meaningful and deep learning.
Equipped with research gathered in varied cultural and educational settings, Jahnke challenges educators to develop teaching methods that appeal to a variety of learning preferences that fall “outside-the-lines.” The author claims that many educational institutions remain fixated on a hierarchical, trickle down, teacher-student relationship that does not take into full consideration the varieties of learners in any classroom context. She also believes there has been an over reliance on the written text as a means of disseminating information. To facilitate greater surface and deep learning, Jahnke calls for a transformation of the language and mindset shaping didactical design and teaching at all levels – from early primary to tertiary.
The book proposes certain key concepts as departure points for shaping a pro-active educational design that merges digital media and learning into new communication spaces called “CrossActionSpaces.” These space are seen as “dynamic, overlayered, expanded… where the boundaries of physical buildings and walls are somewhat irrelevant” (18).
Learning communities, Jahnke believes, exist as much in cyber space as within the classroom, taking place across several boundaries to thousands of humans who are online, in different settings. In such a milieu, human communication becomes a catalyst for shrinking the distance between people, culture, and knowledge, and acts as a new form of social action (73).
Another key concept put forward by Jahnke is the idea of “learning expeditions rather than that of learning experiences which are seen as more open ended” (99). In such an environment, formal structures and processes for teaching and learning combine to create communities where students and teacher are co-collaborators and sojourners of learning content.
Additionally, readers are asked to consider learning as a social process constructed within an inclusive offline and online community. Instead of arranging learning around lectures and workshops, Jahnke contends that learning should be more open ended, student centric, and should emphasize social action and active learning, rather than information consumption (186).
Digital Didactical Design is a reminder that the traditional teaching space is no longer the central metaphor (197). In its place has come a greater need for peer reflective learning, group activities, and collaborative unbounded reflection.This book affirms that in a digital world interactive technology and didactical design are to be wedded and used in proactive and progressive ways so as to advance student learning.
Since new forms of learning are evolving, Jahnke has effectively placed her energies on helping readers better understand digital didactical design, rather than on supplying packaged solutions in all situations. She makes no claim to have all the answers, but she does provide countless opportunities for reflecting on the best way forward in shaping effective digital didactical design and learning strategies for today’s hyper-connected world.
Smaller theological schools face distinct challenges. One of those challenges is how to provide coverage for a comprehensive theological curriculum while maintaining a reasonable teaching load for elected faculty members while also providing for student needs. Another is finding qualified and competent adjunct faculty to provide needed coverage while guarding ...
Willie Niegro was the shipping supervisor at the warehouse where I worked summers during high school. He'd been there over 20 years, overseeing the shipping of crates and pallets out the truck bays at the rear of the warehouse. He was a cheerful character and took pride in his work. I ...