Origin Story: Interview with NBS President Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is President of Northwest Baptist Seminary (NBS). In 2014, NBS’ CBTE-based program Immerse became the first such program to be accredited with ATS and in 2017 became the first CBTE program to produce M.Div Graduates. Immerse is co-owned by NBS partner churches (the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists in British Columbia) and has spawned various iterations with other networks and churches all under the auspices of NBS.

What led to the need to start Immerse?
We needed to do a better job for our churches quite simply. We weren’t satisfied with the rate or quality of what we were achieving for our churches in terms of leadership development. We began to ask ourselves, “If we were to reverse engineer the process and work more closely with our churches could we do a better job and see a better result?” And we did!

What have been the challenges of getting Immerse started?
Well, there were no models! We had to figure it out and I think we did a pretty good job. By the time we were done and looked back, we were able to see that a lot of intuitive decisions we had made early on had been the right ones. The competency-based model was emerging in the university world in general, and we discovered that we were very well aligned with what is going on in the world of education.

In terms of ongoing challenges, our program rises and falls on the quality of the mentors. Making sure that mentors are well prepared and understand the vision is crucial and an ongoing focus. Obviously making the paradigm shift for faculty is a big challenge. Helping people who are deeply invested in conventional education to see how their personal missions will be fulfilled through a different paradigm is pretty challenging. It can be done, and it is amazing. But it’s not immediately evident to people who have built their life around a particular approach. To lead them past that to something different is challenging.

What is your advice in terms of helping faculty to make that shift?
Again, helping them see how their personal mission and calling can be fulfilled through this other form is a huge step. Over time, the faculty have come to truly enjoy this method of working with students because there is a greater relational quality. It is quite attractive once you get used to it. As well, it was incredibly helpful to us that all of our faculty are deeply committed to our churches. They were motivated in knowing that not only was this what our churches desired, but that it would have an improved impact on the product for our churches.

What benefit does CBTE give the seminary as opposed to traditional programs?
Oftentimes, schools have thought of their product as being educational content. The consumers of this content – students – form the customer base of the school. I think this model is actually problematic. In our model, we like to think of the customer as being the church or ministry that will employ the graduate. Our graduates, our students, are the product. We desire to be particularly good at producing students who can lead our churches. We work really hard to understand the type of leaders churches need and then help them develop that leader.

When you think of it that way, this model is very productive. Mission fulfillment is accelerated and improved. This resonates with our churches and our people, and hence we have seen a tremendous response from donors – much higher than we have experienced in the past.

Why do you think that is?
This just makes sense to people. A lot of our donors are in our churches and receiving the benefit of our students training. When they can participate in the development of these people, and see the results directly in their churches and in their own lives, it is very attractive. I’m finding that people respond very naturally to this idea of supporting an innovation that trains people toward mastery in context through mentors. It just makes sense to people.

Speaker Profiles: Amy Kardash and Jay Blossom

Amy Kardash and Jay Blossom

Moving an institution toward Competency-Based Theological Education is not something that a single visionary administrator can do alone. Rather, it requires collaboration among multiple constituencies, including administrators, board members, faculty members, and (often) denominational or church officials. That is, it requires competency in the skill of change management. How does this happen?

Amy Kardash (President) and Jay Blossom (Vice President for Communication) of the In Trust Center for Theological Schools will present the results of their qualitative research on this topic in a breakout session entitled  “All Aboard! Moving Ahead Without Leaving Key Players Behind.” Having interviewed leaders of schools (both within and outside of theological education) where competency-based education has been adopted, they’ll share what they’ve learned — where the process went smoothly, and where it didn’t — and offer some tips on moving forward collaboratively.

Learn more about Amy Kardash                                                Learn more about Jay Blossom

In Trust exists to strengthen theological schools by connecting their leaders to essential resources for helping them to achieve meaningful institutional goals. Visit them at InTrust.org

 

Leveraging the Democratization of Information

The age of educational institutions having a monopoly on knowledge is quickly ending. Today, videos, lectures and other resources from world-class subject matter experts and communicators are available for free at the click of a button. No matter what subject you are looking for and no matter what depth you are looking to engage it in, you can find the resources you need online. In essence, a motivated learner can access content whenever they want from wherever they have an internet connection. No expensive tuition required.

But that raises the question if educational institutions are no longer the guardians of knowledge, what are they? What is their role? May I suggest that their role is to bridge the gap between knowledge and education.

Education is cohesive, collective and scaffolded
Much of the democratized information available online is found independent of context and related subject matter. As a result, this leaves the learner with gaps in their knowledge often resulting in frustration as they attempt to understand deeper concepts without a solidly built foundation.

Education, on the other hand, helps a student build the pathway from being a subject matter padawan to being a master. By linking all the related subjects together, demonstrating their connectivity and identifying the discrete steps in the learning journey, educational institutions can help their students gain more than just information.

Education is outcomes orientated
While information can be accessed and accrued without a broader understanding of how it fits in, education is always concerned with getting someone somewhere. The cohesive, collective and scaffolded programs we just talked about also give prospective students a clear view of where they are going … and why.

Every degree program and every course within that program includes discreet learning goals that are clear to the prospective student before they embark in the learning journey, enabling them to effectively understand why they are learning what they are learning and what they will know and be able to do when they finish.

Education is standardized and accredited
For many, the fact that educational institutions are standardized through accreditation is a strike against them, not a benefit. This critique is not unfounded as accreditation and standardization can sometimes lead to program designs that do not account for different learners with different abilities, learning styles and prior knowledge. By treating each learner as identical, these programs do not allow individual students to reach their best.

However, knowing that a graduate’s education has included key components is critical. Without it, future employers or schools looking to utilize or build on the student’s education cannot have any sense of security that the student has engaged any particular subject at the depth they are required to.

What is the future for educational institutions?

As educational institutions lose their monopoly on knowledge, we need to look towards educational philosophies and programs that emphasize what we can provide that no amount of free online content can. If knowledge is available everywhere, we need to leverage that and focus on providing education.

In the world of theological education, we have an opportunity to do that in Competency-Based Theological Education.

By building integrated competencies, CBTE programs are able to clearly demonstrate to students the different subject matter required to achieve mastery. Mentors are able to guide the student in the process of developing mastery and scaffolding toward demonstrating it.

CBTE programs are, at their very core, outcomes oriented. While some traditional courses and programs were designed around outcomes, the evaluation of these outcomes in the student is done by proxies (such as exams and assignments). CBTE programs collapse the distance between outcome and evaluation through direct assessment of the competencies in the life and work of the student.

CBTE programs also maximize the value of accreditation by standardizing the results (which leads to confidence in the quality of the graduate) rather than process (which leads to asking diverse students to develop in the exact same way). In other words, future employers or educators can be confident about what the graduate knows and can demonstrate and the student has the freedom to modify their education experience to maximize their development.

The future of advanced education is changing and theological education is not exempt. CBTE is not, and will not be, the only innovation that helps schools to meet the changing needs of learners, but it is one that enables educational institutions to focus on what they can provide that no video or web platform can alone.