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AU professors discussed strategies to teach, minister through their courses

Whatever you call them—Generation Y, Millennials, Mosaics, or Screeners—members of today’s college-age, digital generation are facing more challenges in their daily lives—and challenges to their faith—than any group that has preceded them.

To understand how to better reach that population, educators at Anderson University met this fall to discuss trends impacting the contemporary church and how those trends affect college students. A group of AU faculty, representing all disciplines across campus participated in the dialogue moderated by Dr. Kris Barnett, the associate dean of the College of Christian Studies at AU. His presentation, The State of the Church: The Faith of our Students, discussed how addressing the spiritual concerns of 20-somethings is part of the AU professor’s continual goal to integrate a Christian dimension into lessons.

The State of the Church: The Faith of our Students is part of a series of regular sessions sponsored by AU’s Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence. According to director Peter Kaniaris, the mission of the center is to offer a means for continual improvement of professors by facilitating discussions among AU faculty members.

Dr. Barnett’s message to his AU colleagues: their encouragement and inspiration at this time can be critical in helping students embrace their faith while they prepare for their future. He recommended that his colleagues be intentional and courageous in inserting faith into class discussions, view education as a calling, and forge strong connections and relationships with students.

Dr. Barnett generated discussion among the participants by asking their thoughts on how their teaching styles impact this generation and suggested the EPIC acronym model for teaching: make learning Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich, and Connected. For these educators, this model partly means giving students ample opportunity to participate in discussion both inside and outside of the classroom. And with so many conflicting voices in the world constantly demanding students’ attention, Dr. Barnett pointed out it is crucial for an educator to give practical examples and share personal experiences to show students he is worthy of their attention.

According to Dr. Barnett, teens comprise the most religiously active segment of our population. Unfortunately, an astounding 70 percent of those abandon regular religious practice between the ages of 18 and 22 and become ‘spiritual tinkerers,’ a term coined by sociologist Robert Wuthnow. Dr. Barnett’s point: that’s exactly the age when young adults fall within the scope of influence of educators at institutions like AU.

Therefore, he says, it’s important that educators understand the challenges students are facing in order to help them learn effectively. By addressing their spiritual concerns, educators can help students apply their faith to their career—whatever calling they follow. And since the college years are when many students shy away from organized religion, Dr. Barnett explained that college professors are in a unique position to minister to students when they are especially vulnerable to the new ideas—some good, but some not so good—that bombard them from many directions once they are away from their parents and home church.

Worship is changing. Education is changing. And the faculty members of Anderson University are committed to learning, growing and equipping their students for Christian service. At Anderson University, the hearts and minds of the faculty are focused on bringing glory to God through outstanding teaching.

“We have some of the most superb faculty of any university,” Kaniaris said. “These seminars are a way to highlight the expertise of our teaching staff. They essentially help our teachers teach each other and allow them to share what they’ve learned.” In addition to regular presentations each semester, the Center for Learning also offers webinars and books to faculty members to support their continuing education. In addition, the center conducts classroom surveys or offers support with teacher evaluations.

For more information about the Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence, contact the center's director Peter Kaniaris.

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