As a part of the “Faculty, Faith, and Learning” course I am taking as a second-year faculty member, I was asked to comment on the following questions: “Assess previous courses you have taught at NU. What are examples of assignments that demonstrate learning informed by faith? What would you do to adjust the assignment in the future?”
Here are my thoughts:
When I think about assignments I have given that illustrate learning informed by faith, there are two in particular that immediately stand out.
The first is from my junior-level course entitled “Introduction to Youth and Family Ministry.” There, the final semester project is a “Personal Theology of Youth Ministry” that each student writes. Ostensibly meant to integrate the core of their personal convictions informed by experience, theological training, and the biblical text, this project has a practical portion as well. Students are asked to consider not only what a youth ministry should be about, but what such commitments mean in the way that a youth ministry will be operated.
Though the linkage of faith and learning can sometimes be rather close in the ministry world anyway, I believe this project brings together the two sides in the best traditions of practical theology. As I move forward, I think it will make sense to take a few sessions of the course to use as “workshop” days to help students think through the ideas upon which they will be writing. Further, I’m excited that, even now, I’m working to integrate this assignment in our senior-level capstone course in youth ministry, where the goal will be to revise this document and make it a foundational part of a ministry portfolio for use with potential church employers.
On the Church History side of things, I ask students to complete a series of short 2-page papers based on various primary sources readings (Luther, Calvin, etc.). Within, they are asked to briefly summarize the reading, offer some comment on its historical context, talk about what they find interesting, and ask one question for classroom discussion. The attempt here is to help students not only understand the reading, but to connect it in some way to their lives.
This attempt is not always successful, and I’m wondering if perhaps I need to clarify what I mean when I ask them to comment on what they find “interesting.” Perhaps a more focused question concerning how the principles contained in each document persist today or how they resonate with the students’ own faith perspective. The goal would be to take what seems “strange” or “old” in the history of Christianity and help students understand not only how fellow Christians could think or act in such ways, but how their faith is in some ways connected with ours. This kind of temporal ecumenism and dialogue can be very interesting and helpful, I think, for students’ learning, retention, and–possibly–transformation.