Calvin University helps students develop the skills to answer their calling. And a big part of Calvin’s success has been their faculty’s ability to connect faith and learning. With the de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development, Calvin is making that connection even more potent.
Calvin University founded the de Vries Institute in partnership with Calvin Theological Seminary. Now, the institute is providing development opportunities that help professors make scripture the foundation of more aspects of college coursework.
The de Vries Institute’s focus isn’t limited to Calvin’s campus. They want to empower faculty at Christian universities worldwide, and they asked us to help them achieve that goal.
We were eager to help. After all, we specialize in supporting short-term projects — in addition to long-term partnerships.
Challenge: Create Development Opportunities for Faculty Around the World
There are many ways for faculty to grow as instructors. But finding development options that center on the Christian faith can be challenging. As a result, professors without a deep theology may struggle when hired to teach at faith-based universities.
The de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development plans to change that. And the institute’s coordinator, Dr. David I. Smith, is helping lead the way.
“We want to increase theological literacy to help professors encounter Christianity as an intellectual tradition,” Dr. Smith said. “Then, we can develop viable models for connecting theological themes to academic work.”
Dr. Smith believed this training could benefit professors throughout the world. The institute knew an online learning platform would help them reach a global audience, but they needed assistance to develop it.
This project’s timing added another hurdle. “We got fully underway just as the pandemic began,” Dr. Smith said. That further taxed the institute’s resources and raised the need for a partner to speed up the course design process.
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Strategy: Partner on the Rapid Design of Online Courses – Without Sacrificing Quality
Our role on this project began as Calvin was finalizing a long-term partnership with us. The partnership involved a variety of support, such as marketing programs, recruiting new students, and assisting current students in the university’s online offerings. The de Vries Institute’s project was part of that agreement with Calvin, but it had a narrower focus.
“We were looking for expertise and logistical support in designing online courses, and we wanted to see what we could learn from the process,” Dr. Smith said. Our work focused on two online course modules:
- Engaging Responsibly with Scripture
- Educating for Shalom
Although this project had a narrow focus, we didn’t take a cookie-cutter approach when designing the courses. Our academic services team traveled to Grand Rapids to lead design-thinking sessions with the institute’s stakeholders. That process helped us understand how the institute’s mission is informed by the Reformed tradition of historic Christianity, and we strived to honor it throughout the partnership.
We also took a design-thinking approach to dig into the institute’s goals for global faculty development. These sessions helped our collaborative work to develop modules that:
Engage online and campus-based professors
Yes, faculty learners would complete the modules online. But the institute wanted the curriculum to benefit faculty who teach in face-to-face environments, too. For this reason, we focused on enabling faculty to bring scripture into all aspects of their courses, be it a synchronous lecture or an asynchronous assignment.
Empower professors with varying experience levels
Teaching a topic well requires skill. But teaching a topic well and rooting it in faith is another matter.
“Not everyone hired to teach in a faith-based institution has a theology that is deep, wide, and supple,” Dr. Smith said. So, we worked closely with Dr. Smith’s team to develop a curriculum that would appeal to current instructors at Christian colleges and professors who are new to teaching at a faith-based institution.
Dr. Smith said development for connecting faith to a curriculum is especially important for adjunct professors. After all, they may need help to “teach courses in ways that contribute to the mission of the institution that they have joined.”
Follow a culturally inclusive framework
The de Vries Institute seeks to empower faculty at Christian universities worldwide. This global focus pushed us to design culturally inclusive coursework. We worked with the institute to:
- make the modules accessible for faculty across the globe
- include readings that resonate across cultural traditions
- represent diverse voices in the course materials
Motivate faculty learners to engage with the material
Dr. Smith felt that faculty would develop further if the modules encouraged them to think deeply.
“We didn't want the modules to crunch people through a bunch of information and have them check off 15 tasks on Moodle,” he said. “We wanted the learning process itself to engage people holistically.”
That meant designing modules to foster deep reflection about the lessons. As such, the coursework urges faculty not to limit their learning experience to what’s on their laptop screen.
“We don’t just invite the faculty to read things. We ask them to try things they learned or work on a personal discipline,” Dr. Smith said.
Results: Engaging Diverse Faculty Learners
Using our operational knowledge and expertise, we helped the institute complete the course modules on an accelerated timeline. After that, the institute conducted a pilot launch with 24 faculty learners located throughout the world. The participants worked in a diverse mix of academic departments, teaching courses in:
- Japanese Studies
- Social Work
After completing the pilot, we surveyed the faculty learners and conducted four focus group workshops to identify the course outcomes. Our analysis showed most respondents had positive experiences, as they:
- found the modules valuable and well-designed
- appreciated the applied approach of the instruction
- learned to relate scripture to their coursework
What’s more, the faculty learners felt that completing the course modules would elevate how they teach. During the focus group sessions, participants said they were already working to adjust their teaching styles based on what they learned from the modules.
The surveys and focus groups provided insights for improving the course design, which the institute used when building three additional modules. This expanding suite of modules allows the institute to reach a growing number of faculty learners.
Emphasizing cultural inclusion has allowed the institute to engage a diverse audience of faculty learners. In fact, pilot participants from outside the U.S. shared how the institute’s courses positively impacted their teaching and lives. Dr. Smith said that feedback is encouraging because the institute aims to assist faculty at Christian schools across the globe.
“We've already had many participants from Uganda, Kenya, Ukraine, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, and Hungary,” Dr. Smith said. He added that “more than 100 faculty signed up to complete the modules this summer.”
Dr. Smith appreciated how much we listened to his team during the design process. “As a Christian institution, one of our concerns was whether an outside company would understand what we're trying to do. Our Wiley partners worked hard to listen to us to capture our vision. They learned what we wanted to do and reflected it back to us,” he said.
These types of projects often require rapid turnaround times, and we strive to make them highly efficient. Dr. Smith said those efforts made a difference in launching the course modules on time.
“One of the biggest benefits we got out of the process was excellent project management,” Dr. Smith said. “Wiley was fiercely efficient in terms of getting it all done.”
That efficiency was crucial because this project began shortly after COVID-19 upended how educators work.
“If we had not been working with Wiley, I don't believe we would've finished the project on the schedule we wanted,” Dr. Smith said. “Wiley kept everything on track and kept it all working.”
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