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What’s All the Buzz About Competency-Based Education (Part II)

This is the second installment of an interview series between ABHE president Ralph Enlow and Northwest Baptist Seminaries’ Kent Anderson and Ruth McGillivray (view Part I here). This interview was originally posted on Dr. Enlow’s blog.

Ralph: I’m curious – how did Northwest get started in CBTE, and why?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: They say the first step in change management is realizing you’re on a burning bridge. Honestly, around 2009 we knew our bridge was on fire. The denomination we serve, Fellowship Pacific, was not sending us new students, and its churches weren’t hiring our graduates. This led to some hard, truth-speaking conversations and an acceptance that the traditional higher education model we’d been using to train pastors was no longer working for us. Our graduates didn’t have the skills and competencies our churches needed, and the denomination was looking elsewhere to find pastors.

In response, we undertook a project with the denomination in 2010 to reverse-engineer our MDiv program, by starting with the end in mind. We worked together to identify the competencies we believe pastors need to meet current church needs and re-evaluated the school’s educational approach. In 2012, we launched Immerse, a competency-based, direct assessment, in-context delivery MDiv program run jointly by Northwest and Fellowship Pacific.

The Immerse model was based on core principles of an occupational training model called competency-based education, but adapted significantly for the ministry setting, where character traits, qualities, and dispositions of the heart are as crucial to success as knowledge, skills, and abilities. We called the model Competency-Based Theological Education, or CBTE.

Ralph: Have you had any graduates yet from your CBTE MDiv?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: Yes! As of September 2018, we will have 22 graduates from Canada, the United States, and South America.

Ralph: What differences do notice between your CBTE MDiv graduates versus previous graduates from traditional programs?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: Our CBTE MDiv graduates are job-ready at graduation. They aren’t trained in classrooms, but rather in full-time ministry under the guidance of a three-person mentor team that includes a Northwest faculty member, network or church leader, and current practitioner. They do traditional assignments like readings, seminars, papers, and projects, but evaluation is focused on application in-context, and timing is determined by the needs of their ministry setting. They learn in real time, on-the-job, and by the time they graduate, they’ve already proven they can be successful in the ministry for which they’ve trained. Our placement rate is 95%.

Also, our graduates are all high performers, since CBTE programs award credit for mastery, not completion. This takes more time for some than others, but that’s the basic premise of CBTE—that learning is constant and time is variable. If a student is not yet meeting the performance standards for a competency—as defined by program rubrics—the mentor team will have them re-do assignments or assign new ones, working with them till mastery standards are met. In conventional terms, it’s like saying a student must achieve minimum 80-85% in every course to graduate, but they have as much time as needed to get there.

The other big differentiator is that Immerse students must demonstrate mastery of affective domain competencies like community, humility, hope, prayer and love in order to graduate, not just knowledge and skill-based competencies like biblical languages, hermeneutics, and exegesis. This is hard to do with rigor or authenticity in a traditional program but works for Immerse because of the way the program is designed, and the fact that mentor teams work with the same student over a period of years, guiding, observing, and assessing all aspects of their development, not just academics.

Read the rest of the interview here.

ATS Peer-Group Report on CBTE

This report was compiled by the individuals and institutions that comprised the ATS Peer-Group report on Competency-Based Theological Education and was originally published by ATS as part of their innovations in theological education initiative. To see the full list of participants and the complete report see here.

Competency-based theological education (CBTE) is an educational model that emphasizes: (1) learning more than “seat time,” (2) the mastery of professionally-oriented competencies, (3) well-planned learning activities or assessments (class-based or not, online or onsite) that students may complete at their own paces, and (4) a community of learning where regular and substantive interaction occurs between qualified faculty and students. CBTE programs may be course/credit-based or non-course/credit-based or both. One way to compare and contrast CBTE with more traditional educational models is that the CBTE model holds learning constant while time varies, whereas traditional models hold time constant while learning varies.

As we have progressed through this project, we have come to realize CBTE is more than merely a model to replicate. It is a value system that forms a foundation for a renewed approach to theological education. As evidence of this, two of the ten schools in our CBTE peer group have been approved by the ATS Commission on Accrediting for non-credit/course-based CBTE programs as five-year experiments: Northwest Baptist Seminary in June 2014 and Grace Theological Seminary in February 2017. A third school (Sioux Falls Seminary) operates a CBTE program that is essentially course/credit-based and does not require the approval of ATS, regional accreditors, or the United States Department of Education (DOE). (For a side-by-side comparison of the three schools, see the last page of this report.)

Clearly, schools can deliver programs rooted in a CBTE value system in different ways. At the same time, all three of the programs in our peer group share a similar set of underlying values that form the foundation for their approaches to theological education. This value system calls us to think of theological education not as a transcendent form of education (graduate-level, traditional courses and credits, residency requirements) but as a transcendent function of education. As such, it needs to reinterpret itself from setting to setting to optimally fulfill its function.

We recognize CBTE as a movement that has outgrown “niche” status and rapidly is gaining traction in higher education. More than 600 institutions have some form in place; however, we’re convinced that one size doesn’t fit all, and that prevents our schools from blindly joining the wave. Not only does theological education in general have unique characteristics and requirements, but individual schools within the theological education world have distinct characteristics and requirements. Seminaries that embrace CBTE need to consider its underlying value system and discern if it fits in their contexts. CBTE may require schools to raise the value they place on certain aspects of theological education while lowering the value for other aspects. Member schools also must allow for differences that arise among sister schools that implement CBTE programs.

The goal of our research is two-fold: to help seminaries determine if CBTE is right for them; and to help seminaries design and initiate CBTE programs that support their missions, meet the needs of their constituents, and follow best principles and practices for ATS member schools.

Read the full report here.

The mentor’s dilemma: tips for assessing “soft” competencies in Competency-Based Theological Education (CBTE)

Note: This article, written by Ruth McGillivray, was originally published in the July 2018 edition of the ATS magazine Colloquy

Kyle is a theology professor at a seminary that has recently implemented a competency-based MDiv program. He has a decade of experience teaching traditional, semester-based courses at the post-secondary level, and another decade taking them. But his role in this new program is different. Instead of teaching courses in his specialty area to a new group of students each term, he’s now the academic advisor on a cross-functional mentor team guiding one student through her whole degree. Not only does he also evaluate how well she articulates understanding and critical thinking on theological concepts, but he also looks at how she applies them in her daily life and work. In addition, he’s responsible to oversee her development in disciplines outside his specialty and assess whether or not she has mastered competencies like humility, faith, hope, and culture.

This presents a dilemma for Kyle, as well as for the ministry and practitioner mentors on his three-person team. Each has an individual sense of what it means to be humble or have hope, but how do they articulate what mastery of humility or hope looks like for assessment purposes? To complicate things further, Kyle oversees two other students in this new program and, in that capacity, is on three different mentor teams. Even if one team reaches consensus on what mastery looks like, he has to navigate the same waters with the other two teams. How does he assess his three students consistently if each team arrives at a different definition?

read the rest of the article here