Living Relevance in Theological Curriculum
Associate Professor Peter Laughlin
Dean of the Alliance Institute for Mission and Academic Dean
Australian College of Ministries.
If curriculum is to be effective it must remain relevant to both stakeholders and students. That is, it must produce graduates who meet the expectations and desired outcomes of institutional stakeholders as well as being able to connect with the ‘now’ of the students. For this reason, curriculum design must be organic in its conception, and flexible in its approach. Neither stakeholder desires or student expectations remain static over time and so neither can an institution’s curriculum. Frequent revision and reflection upon current practices and student experiences allow for the identification of what might be termed ‘living relevance’ to emerge. When this occurs, content is readily applied by students to current or future needs and stakeholders are pleased with the skills and knowledge of graduates.1 Without this connection, however, students find it more difficult to ground their learning in a viable context which both degrades retention and their ability to apply the content to specific situations.
To assist in this there are a number of factors that can be explored to ensure the ongoing relevance of units.
- Regular evaluation and/or update of reading lists, unit sessions and student unit experience. Unit content cannot remain stagnant or it will become obsolete. Even in foundational units in which the core content does not change, the way in which the student encounters and applies the content must be refreshed.
- Correct alignment of assessments with course unit outcomes. The outcomes have been prepared (in a perfect world) to be correctly aligned with graduate outcomes. Thus, alignment of assessments will ensure that the student develops the necessary knowledge and skills that the unit is designed to teach.2
- Creative assessment strategies that embed the unit learning outcomes in real-world ministry contexts. The reality is that most student learning comes through assignment preparation. By creatively developing assessments that connect with either current or future ministry practice, the student can see the unit’s immediate relevance.
- Directing the student to the ‘why’ of the unit enables them to make sense of the content and to subsequently understand the value of studying it–even in such cases when an immediate relevance is not clear.
Living relevance is not just a nice ideal but a crucial component of the ongoing success of the educational institution and must be an important consideration for the ongoing management of any curriculum.
1 Smith and Healy, “On the Frontiers of Change: Designing Bespoke Learning Architecture” in Teaching Theology in a Technological Age. Eds. Yvette Debergue and James Harrison (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2015), 161-2.
2 Where the course unit outcomes are themselves a weakness, thoughtful and creative assessment strategies can help to overcome this problem until a formal curriculum-wide review can be done.