Intentional Teaching, Intentional Tech
While many institutions of higher education are innovating with digital tools to enhance teaching and learning, most are doing so in the context of distance or hybrid models. PTS is a residential campus adhering to face-to-face instruction and in-person dialogue between faculty and students. In this digital age, a new market of online and technology-enhanced learning has emerged. Educational technology and technological advances have the potential to enhance pedagogy and increase the quality of learning in residential contexts.
Intentional Teaching, Intentional Tech is a $30,000 grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning, empowering the Office of Digital Learning at PTS to respond to this opportunity. We believe that enhancing pedagogy and the quality of learning will also mean better incorporating digital tools in teaching/learning processes and working to strengthen our graduates’ digital skills to be best prepared for ministry in the 21st century. The necessity of proficiency in these skills for both students and faculty became even clearer after the emergency shift to virtual learning in 2020-2021. We have worked to make space for our grant participants to reflect on what tools or methods from online teaching and learning they would like to retain as they return to residential classrooms.
This project’s goal is to support intentional reflection on teaching among members of the PTS community—considering if, when, and how incorporating technology can enhance teaching and learning.
We have created space for shared conversation (usually around tables of food!), connected grant participants to colleagues and coaches, and provided them with resources that will help them with their professional and pedagogical development. The program is facilitated by the Office of Digital Learning and co-directed by Lindsey Trozzo and Eric Barreto. Kelsey Lambright, our Research Scholar, is gathering our reflections along the way and articulating our collective pedagogical insights at the close of the grant. Jennifer Ring, our Student Administrator, is assisting with logistics, reimbursement, budgeting, and reporting.
The grant participants include a small group of faculty, staff, master’s students, and doctoral students. Most of these participants are drawn from three of the teaching teams made up of faculty, staff, and students who facilitated the new Life Together courses in the fall of 2021. In addition to these Life Together teams, we are working with the Farminary teaching team and two PhD students who are teaching courses as Graduate Instructors this year. Altogether our participants include Emma Lietz Bilecky, Denise Carrell, Dr. Heath Carter, Megan DeWald, Bonnie Lin, Peter Manning, Dr. Hanna Reichel, Dr. Nathan Stucky, Rev. Lydia Tembo, Rev. Yedea Walker, AJ Wallace, and Nicola Whyte.
Learnings from Fall 2021
In the fall of 2021, the grant participants gathered for a kickoff event with Derek Bruff (Assistant Provost and Executive Director of the Center for Teaching, interim Director of the Digital Commons and a principal senior lecturer in mathematics at Vanderbilt University). They also met several times over the course of the semester with others in their cohort (one cohort each for faculty, master’s students, doctoral students, and staff). Finally, near the end of the semester, they gathered with the Office of Digital Learning staff for a time for reflection and teaching tool gift exchange. Below are a few of the learnings we gathered during the first half of the grant.
The Life Together courses each have their own topic, but they have shared objectives related to enhancing the community experience of the seminary among entering students. The faculty and students considered how best to foster safe discussion environments for these (and other) classes. As PTS continues to gather students with diverse theological and political perspectives, our teachers desire dialogue in courses to be open and generative. Our grant participants wondered together how they might be able to encourage fruitful conversation in community, where tension, disagreement, and hurt seem inevitable.
Over the course of the semester, the faculty, staff, and students teaching the Life Together courses and the PhD students teaching their own courses used a variety of technologies (most analog!) toward this end. Some classes made intentional use of the placement of tables and chairs. Some used small whiteboards to help students communicate more equitably with each other. Some used online social readers (Perusall), so that students could annotate class texts alongside each other. While none of these is a failsafe way to bring about healthy community and open discourse, they can promote a learning environment that encourages those things.
When Derek Bruff presented in September, he shared about the value of authentic audiences, learning communities, and multimodel assignments. Authentic assessments have students do something that connects to life beyond the classroom—to authentic audiences. Learning communities help enhance learning as students learn from and with each other. Multimodal assignments encourage students to work with new material using different kinds of media, which helps them learn that material better.
Some of our grant participants put these three principles into practice in their fall courses. Dr. Heath Carter, for example, had his students work in teams to design a public-facing presentation that narrates a story about a congregation’s past. He encouraged them to get creative by making a podcast, a video, an art installation, or something else they could dream up. PhD Candidate Bonnie Lin taught a course on hospitality this past semester. She encouraged her students to find a place on campus that wasn’t as hospitable as it could be and to work together to make it more hospitable. Some of her students took to Facebook to promote their fun family event, which sought to make the seminary’s residential apartments more hospitable to families with young children.
Tools of the Trade
When we proposed this grant, we had imagined bolstering the seminary’s use of digital technologies in our residential classrooms. We are certainly still doing that! However, while doing so, we realized (with Bruff’s help) that we have been using technologies in our teaching all along. Rather than focusing exclusively on how to intentionally use digital technologies in our teaching, we have begun to think about the intentional use of technologies in teaching much more broadly. A better question would be: How can we intentionally use both analog and digital technologies side by side in our teaching?
To that end, we are considering with much more intentionality how things like tables, chairs, whiteboard markers, sticky notes, recorded teachings, and classroom response systems can all work together to create engaging and meaningful learning environments.
Our grant focuses on teaching with technology, but to teach well with technology one must first teach well!
These days technology brings the congregation to our coffee tables in virtual church, the doctor’s office to our laptops in telehealth, and even therapy to our smartphones! We’ve seen an increase in remote work and online learning. In this Virtual Visit we’re joined by two friends and experts who help us explore how these patterns might affect vocational discernment and what they recommend for those preparing to work and serve in a multimodal world.
Come alongside some of the grant participants as we chat with Rev. Dr. Theresa Thames, Associate Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel at Princeton University and the founder and CEO of Soul Joy Coaching & Yoga and Dr. Sarah Bogue, Director of Digital Learning and Assistant Professor in the Practice of the History of Christianity, Candler School of Theology, Emory University.