March 21, 2022

In this season of Lent, the church has the opportunity to re-learn an important lesson of the Christian spiritual life: the importance of engaging in prayerful discernment about what to say YES to and what to say NO to. Jesus modeled this practice for us (Luke 4:1-14) and the first Christian leaders engaged in it when making important decisions (Acts 15:1-34). The faculty of NTS have done the same in the recent curricular review process. Let me give you a glimpse into an important piece of it—the question of “modality”, that is, how we at NTS will deliver our revised curriculum to students.

NTS had the foresight just over a decade ago to begin experimenting with and learning from the emerging trend toward “distance education”—students taking courses using digital technologies. We’ve learned that most of our students want to make use of them if it means they can remain in their current ministry context while earning a degree at NTS. We’ve had great success with this, especially videoconferencing. Of course some students live in or near Kanas City or prefer to move to Kansas City to take courses in a physical classroom. Accommodating both these realities has reflected NTS’s commitment to adapt to new and differing ways of serving students and the church.

Recently NTS faculty sensed a need to adapt again. Through careful listening, assessment, conversation, and prayer, we discerned that the blended classroom experience (a combined physical classroom and videoconference screen) was not providing the highest quality learning environment for either in-Kansas City or distance students, especially as the percentage of in-Kansas City students has decreased substantially. So, we decided to say NO to trying to offer multiple modalities, leading to uneven quality (and sometimes confusion) for students and pedagogical frustration for faculty, so that we could say YES to consolidating our energy and creativity into a single modality that will be clear and serviceable for all.

The new modality (delivery system) has three key features:

  1. Classes will meet weekly. This is consistent with NTS’s history, strengths, and student needs.
  2. The weekly class meetings will be via videoconference. Most students are used to this, but it will be a loss for those who want to be in a physical classroom each week. The benefit is improved in-class communication and participation with everyone on the same video platform.
  3. Students will attend, once a year for four years (MDiv) or two years (MATL), a 5-days-in-Kansas City experiential learning and community building experience featuring time in a physical classroom (as part of courses taken that semester) as well as field trips and opportunities for social gathering.

As a faculty we believe that this modality offers students the best of both “worlds” in contemporary education: real-time, weekly classes virtually and occasional, intensive gatherings physically. Because NTS faculty will be bringing their very best to this in a more integrative and focused way, all of it can now be considered truly “in-person.” The full person of each student and faculty member—body, mind, soul, spirit—will be honored and engaged wherever they live and work.

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Rev. Doug Hardy, PhD

Professor of Spiritual Formation

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