As a part of the university's new Quality Enhancement Program (QEP), LCU has implemented a program for strategically-selected faculty and staff members to help introduce them to material centered around growth mindsets and how to cultivate a culture of academic tenacity, encouraging students to pursue, persist, and grow through challenges. This interview explored this initiative with one of the participating faculty members, Shannon Rains, who teaches Bible courses on campus.
SR: When I first heard about the Learning Scholars program, I really wanted to be a part of it, so when I was asked to join it nearly a month later, I was incredibly excited. A big reason was that, as I was beginning to start my second academic year, I knew that I still had much to learn as far as how to teach in my content area. The Learning Academy presented a great opportunity to challenge myself up front to make good decisions and habits, rather than having to go back later after years of doing things a certain way and trying to correct those patterns. Having the most current information up front allows me to do the best for my students and not have to change my curriculum, my tests, my methods after doing things for a long time. Now, I’m getting some of the best information that I can have, which is huge tool for a new professor.
SR: The brain research has been incredibly cool to look at, as it’s been something that I’ve been interested in for a while. Of course, we’ve just gotten a small taste of what the experts are learning at this point, but to be able to understand the ways that God has wired our brains to take in information and process that information, to see the ways that they’re actively growing when they’re learning, has been incredibly interesting.
SR: As a new professor, I think I came into the classroom myself with some unreasonable expectations, and then when I failed to meet those, I would beat myself up over those expectations. I know that I always thought of Bible professors as always having the best lectures that would move their students to come to God and see Christian growth, and while we do want to see that growth, the growth-mindset material has actually allowed me to take some of that pressure off myself. I don’t have to have the next great, big biblical insight about God that’s going to encourage my students in their spiritual walk in every single class—I’m realizing that that part is more in their lap.
The more I look at metacognitive skills and growth mindset, the more I’m realizing that the more we give information, the more opportunity that we’re providing our students to go deeper, to dive in, and really grow with the material. My training in ministry and the way that I expected the university classroom to work—those forces were in opposition to each other in my mind, at least initially. The material and information I’ve been given through the Learning Academy has allowed me to bring that training from ministry into the classroom, and think about things like how we talk about knowledge and teach it in such a way that it can also bring about spiritual growth and deeper discipleship. That kind of stuff isn’t going to necessarily come from a lecture but instead from other types of activities.
SR: This University serves students from all different backgrounds. We have some learners who enter with a wealth of Bible knowledge, but also some who have no Bible knowledge about God. Some are very passionate about God, while others enter with an absolute resistance to hearing about God in the classroom. I’ve heard things like, “Why is this a class I have to take?” I’ve even heard the extremes of, “You’re forcing your faith and religion on me.” These are the kinds of attitudes that I’ve personally seen in the classroom.
And of course, this is linked to more than just another academic field. Of course we want students to learn English and math, and we want students to be passionate about those disciplines, but with Bible, it’s not just another subject. We want our students to come to know God, to learn about God and actively work on changing their lives for the better—and that adds a whole other aspect to what we do in this department. A class in Old Testament should be about knowledge and facts, but it also should be a basis from which someone can change their life. And we can’t tell someone how they should change their life—what we can do is provide an opportunity for them to arrive at the conclusions that the Spirit has for them in this moment. That in itself is a metacognitive skill and is something we’ve been talking about at the Learning Academy. The methods that we’ve been studying also reflects the space that we need in classes to allow for spiritual growth and for those kind of faith questions that hopefully would bring someone deeper in their relationship with God or even open their minds to a real relationship with God for the first time.
SR: One of the big issues that I had to work through was that our Bible classes tend to be some of the larger classes on campus, with upwards of 40 or 50 students in each of the three that I teach. Because of these numbers, we tend to do more objective activities during these courses, because it’s much easier to grade those with 120 students. This has given me to opportunity to rethink some of the structure of that class. We do much more with small groups now, with differing levels of bible knowledge, so there’s much more interaction and thinking aloud for all of the students. One of the harder things for me before this transition was that I was really discouraged when I felt like all these classes were just me talking to the students—this really lets them engage with the material and each other directly. This also helps me check individually for understanding, which is a big deal.
SR: What we’re doing is teaching people how to learn, which covers every aspect of our lives, not just in the classroom. That’s what I think is so impressive about the QEP—it really supports both sides of our university vision statement. It bolsters both the academic side where we want students to be prepared and ready academically for their careers, and also on the spiritual side, where we’re dedicated to helping our students become committed Christians, grow spiritually, and leave this campus to make a difference for the kingdom.
It allows the university to keep speaking the academic languages it needs to speak without marginalizing the spiritual transformation that is so important at LCU.