How to Navigate the New Norms for Adult Education

by Ron Pirtle, Dean – Belhaven Chattanooga/Dalton

I had the privilege of attending the 2018 Christian Adult Higher Education Association (CAHEA) conference recently. While there were a number of really good sessions, one particularly stood out to me as it related to what we have all seen as the potential new norms for adult education. Dr. Claudia Dempsey reminded us of the traditional attitude toward professors, which is the “Sage on the Stage” and was the standard until the beginning of what we know as the “Computer Age.” Dempsey feels that once the internet became accessible for all, “higher education became a fluid, real-time, globally-accessible, inquiry-based exchange” and if we give careful thought to that statement, I believe we would all have to agree that it is rooted in fact.

Some statistics that Dempsey shared concerning, what she referred to as, the “Brave New World,” are:

  • Distance education has now surpassed six million students
  • The student demographics in higher education are now 73% non-traditional
  • We know have consumer students – meaning that higher education is evolving into a customer service industry. (“How can I serve you” vs. “Come meet our standards”)

While the last statement is difficult for most of us to swallow, I believe many of us would concede that this is the attitude we see displayed by more than one of our students. Dempsey actually refers to this generation as the “Starbucks Generation.” She expounded on this designation by pointing out that our students, generally speaking, are no longer just a coffee generation, but a venti, non-fat, salted caramel mocha frappuccino generation. When we shift our thinking to understand that description is representative of students that we are going to be teaching soon, our attitude towards how we present information to our students must be adjusted. The traditional “lecture” format is not what our students are looking for as they participate in their education.

Dempsey addresses this attitude by referring to what Mats Alvesson calls “The Triumph of Emptiness.” She reveals that Alvesson believes that our pursuit of marketability, superficial shine and branding is allowing us to succeed at the triumph of emptiness. Because of this emptiness, Dempsey fears education might experience the assembly-line mass production that has been avoided for years. Should that happen, she feels it could result in several things for professors:

  • Loss of job security
  • Loss of voice
  • Increased academic work/demands
  • Isolation – smaller/long-distance teams
  • Perpetual upgrades in learning systems, which result in bugs/glitches
  • The need for supplemental income

If we just accepted that this might become the reality experienced in higher education, the pursuit of pouring into our students’ lives would be futile. I, for one, am very thankful that we work at an institution where we do not pursue an assembly-line mass production of graduates.

While the attitude presented by Alvesson could become a reality, students that sit in our classes do not experience the triumph of emptiness. I believe that is based on our pursuit of integrating the Christian worldview into all of our classes, along with what Dempsey referred to as cultivating a climate of C.A.R.E: Compassion/Affirmation/Respect/Encouragement. It is my joy to work with instructors who are committed to investing in the creativity, productivity, and resilience of our students, all while enabling them to deepen their understanding of Christ and his place in their daily life.  So, for those of you who have picked up the mantle of teaching, never underestimate your ability to overcome and help our students overcome the triumph of emptiness!

Our “In” is Christ

by Dr. Kotina Hall, Dean, Belhaven-Atlanta

Never before have universities witnessed such generational diversity inside the classrooms. Such a mix should foster a wealth of exchange and variety, including complex experiences. I personally believe that such settings extend beyond the academic walls, lending themselves to the complexities that exist in our society. Interactive exchange affords students opportunities to not only learn from others and to respect their insights, but it also ignites them to critically think to best ignite the application of their own knowledge, spawning the hope for an environment for systematic engagement. Yet, amid this rich mix, there is also an “increase of failing institutions” (Lederman, 2017). I am deeply concerned.

As I often share, during my daily commute I pass more than six colleges and universities. The average student lives more than 40 miles away and can travel up to one or two hours to attend Belhaven University-Atlanta. These statistics reveal that Belhaven University-Atlanta is indeed a university of choice and have caused me to ponder greatly about the survival of our campus in a mecca of ivy-league schools in the south. What makes Belhaven University unique? What is our “in”?

Our “in” is the fact that we not only have a Christian worldview embedded into our curriculum, but the fact that we have an opportunity to openly and boldly live out our creed throughout the day. All institutions have the same 24 hours, but we are distinct in that we have 24 hours to work where we are equipped to live out, speak out, teach about and meet about an all-knowing, all-powerful and awesome Christ. That’s our “in”! No other institution can say that.

As we go out into the fields to create maximum shareholder value, we must do more than post billboards and pass out postcards or heavy-weight business cards; we must boldly share our “in!’” We cannot sell our curriculum if we do not mention Christ. We cannot build solid alliances if our stakeholders do not understand our mission. Our unique and diverse student body cannot appreciate and value our differences if they do not understand the foundation upon which our great institution was built.

The world is constantly changing. Too many are hungry for short-term solutions and less concerned about the welfare of humanity; and sadly, many institutions have moved from “ministry to business” in order to survive. In doing so, they have taken their focus off of Jesus Christ and placed it into systems and business practices.

I am praying that Belhaven University will not change. It is my hope that Belhaven University will continue to promote diversity and encourage heightened, differentiated thought, and transformation learning. In doing so, it is my belief that Belhaven University will posture herself to continue to reevaluate her organizational focus – stand in righteousness, stand up for excellence, stand out from the crowd and stand firm for Christ. Each stance will continue to be our hallmark, but the latter will always be the one to take Belhaven University to unanticipated levels as we follow His prescribed plans.


Grading Classroom Participation

Grading classroom participation, if you are like me, has always been somewhat subjective. I start out with the best intentions of keeping good track of participation, but get caught up in the teaching and quite often drop that ball.

I’ve just added a new section to the Faculty Development Canvas course which specifically addresses this area of instruction, titled “What is the Best Way to Grade Participation.” You can find it in the OnSite section of the Development Modules. I think there are some good ideas there that should help in this area.

There has also been some confusion regarding how participation grades are to be recorded in the on-ground courses for Adult Studies. After receiving some clarification, the process going forward is to consider each week to stand on its own and mark participation for that week. If you have any questions about that, please get with your Dean or contact me at



Reflections from CAHEA – Teaching practices with Adult Students

by Dr. Larry Ruddell, Dean Belhaven-Houston

Dr. Joseph Flowers spoke on “Basic principles and practices for teachers of non-traditional adult students” at the annual Christian Adult Higher Education Association (CAHEA) conference. We have several good articles on instruction in this blog, but it always good to review and remind.

Dr. Flowers started by emphasizing that our roll in teaching is not necessarily to “teach” students but to “create an environment for learning.” Thus, people with different strengths and gifts can “help students learn.” A small few have the gift of teaching and can lecture effectively because of that gift. Others bore students after ten minutes of lecture but can help students learn through a number of other class activities.

Flowers reviewed the basics about andragogy but went further to introduce three “radio stations” (two of which are pertinent) that helped explain adult learners and their perspectives.  The first station is “WII-FM” which stands for “What’s in it for me?” It highlights the importance of relevance in instruction, answering questions like; “why do students need to know this information, how will it benefit them, how can they use it in practical ways, and do students know what to expect?”

In other words, students need to see value in what they are learning, so as instructors, we always need to be building bridges between the course material and how the knowledge can impact students. As Flowers points out, “adults feel the application of information is the primary motivation for undertaking the learning project.”

The more the instructor has experience in the topic covered and relate professional experiences and evaluate course content based on actual professional experiences, the better for students. So, we as instructors should bring this experience into the classroom each week.

The second channel covered by Flowers is “MMFG-AM” which stands for “Make me feel good about myself.” In other words, “instructors should value the learners’ life experiences.” So, as instructors, we must walk the line between covering the course material and valuing and encouraging the individual student. Respect is critical. We must always keep in mind that advanced degrees don’t make us better than anyone else. We must value the experiences of our students whether working in major corporations, small businesses, non-profits, churches or educational settings.

Part of making “students feel good” is mentoring them in personal responsibility and confidence in their ability to perform. A “well done” when a student knows a professor maintains high expectations for performance actually means something versus a platitude for “participating” by submitting an assignment. In fact, when I’m fishing for something positive to say about a lackluster paper, I’ll write at the end of the comments, “glad you were able to submit something.” It sounds trite but depending on the week, it may have been all the student could do to just submit their assignment so even that effort, even though not highly lauded, should be acknowledged.

You want students to complete assignments but hopefully can give them flexibility in how they handle assignments based on their own interests and goals for learning. As Fisher points out, “adults need to be independent and direct their own learning.”

Finally, make sure to chunk material together so it can be memorable. Do not rely too much on PowerPoints. Include three modes of learning; auditory, visual, and tactile. And “tell, show, and experience.”

So, we removed some basic principles of teaching adults from Dr. Joseph Flowers who presented at this year’s annual CAHEA conference. Hopefully some of these points are good reminders for continued success!

Coherence: The Grammar of God and Why It Should Matter to Us

by: Jon Pirtle, Atlanta

According to Scripture, coherence is inseparable from God. Paul writes, “And he [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17 English Standard Version). Another English version (NKJV) translates the verb phrase as “consist”: “And He [Jesus] is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” The ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, and the NIV reveal that the Lord Jesus holds all things together. He is sovereign over all things; therefore, the universe is characterized by orderliness. It is not random; rather, it holds together because God himself is a God of order and we creatures are designed to reflect that orderliness (though imperfectly) through our writing. As God’s people, we ought to reflect the logos/grammar/coherence of God; writing well does that.

In teaching literature and writing courses at Belhaven over the last few years, I have witnessed many students struggle with written expression. Therefore, during each class, I spend up to half an hour addressing some common errors in contemporary culture’s written expression. For example, it’s is not the same as its. And there is not the same as their or they’re. Fragments, misplaced apostrophes, improper use of contractions, confusion over affect versus effect, etc. seem to plague many American writers. How much more important is it, therefore, for us to inculcate the essential role of correct grammar and coherence in writing?

I appreciate so much the rubric that Belhaven uses for student writing. It consists (pun intended) of seven parts: content, organization, fluency, word choice, conventions, voice, and worldview analysis. When students use the rubric effectively, their writing holds together. The “meat” (content) of the ideas they’re exploring and evaluating (worldview analysis) flows (fluency) in an orderly design (organization). When they write in a believable and convincing tone (voice) with proper syntax (word choice) and correct grammar (conventions), the writing satisfies what we as readers crave—coherence.

When meeting with students individually about their essays, I indubitably ask this: “What is the main idea you wanted me to see here?” The answer to that simple question reveals much. Very often, life-changing learning occurs shortly thereafter. Why? Because all of us (students and teachers) crave coherence.

We are designed by a God of order who revealed himself–not haphazardly but coherently. When we write well, we honor our brothers and sisters in Christ and glorify our Father in heaven.

Academic Rigor

What is Academic Rigor? I suspect that the definition of that phrase is somewhat nebulous in most of our minds. When we do think about academic rigor, we tend to think in terms of extensive and/or weighty assignments that “really make the students work.”  Some will equate the phrase with a harsh grading of those “weighty assignments,” or any assignments for that matter. Others will  also include a classroom environment which is suitably “serious” and “no-nonsense.”

None of these, however, address the case for academic rigor. Without understanding the philosophy behind the call for academic rigor, it can quickly devolve to the concepts mentioned above. Foundational to academic rigor is the consideration of the spoken and unspoken objectives/outcomes for the course. The spoken (or listed) student outcomes for the course are included in the module.  These outcomes spell out what the student should know by the end of the course. They are course specific and the accomplishment of these outcomes is the understood reason for the course in the curriculum.

The unspoken objectives/outcomes for the course aren’t listed in the module, but are part of the overall objectives for those in the Adult Studies program, i.e. graduates should be able to:

  1. Apply learning experiences to professional and other situations
  2. Be able to articulate a Christian worldview and its implication for their home, work, and society.
  3. Demonstrate habits of clear, constructive, critical thought,
  4. Demonstrate a command of standard oral and written English.
  5. Evidence a lifestyle of moral and spiritual integrity
  6. Compete in the job market for positions in keeping with their major course of study
  7. Incorporate ongoing learning strategies toward the fulfillment of their life goals.

Achieving both sets of objectives, spoken (outcomes listed in the module) and unspoken (objectives for the Adult Studies Program) is the instructional goal. Appropriate academic rigor is that which will accomplish this goal.

This will include appropriate assignments that are focused toward the spoken objectives, but managed by faculty within the scope of the unspoken.  For instance, we fail when we grade a paper without also taking into account the writing quality (point 4 above) or whether or not it reflects “clear, constructive, critical thought” (point 3 above), etc. This applies not only to grading but to the conversations, lectures, and activities within the classroom.

Our role as teacher places us in a precarious position. In God’s eyes we carry extra responsibility for our students’ learning. For me, grading has always been the more challenging aspect of the instructional process. The temptation is to only give a cursory look at the papers to make sure the major content points have been hit. I confess to you, THAT IS WRONG AND LAZY THINKING. We owe our students and ourselves better than that. Each submission should be read and marked so that it contributes to learning as much as assessment. Each submission should be considered both for the spoken and unspoken objectives, and the grade given fairly reflects the work the student has done. Giving a good grade when the work is only average, or less, is an insult to the student and speaks poorly of our own integrity and the value we place on the role we have accepted.

I ask you to reflect on the phrase academic rigor. “Like” or make a comment in response to this post. More importantly, please consider these things when you are focusing upon academic rigor in your courses.

Webinars to Inform and Improve


We are working on a re-design for the Faculty Resources tab of our site and in the process the webinars, which have been listed there, have all been moved to YouTube for easier access.  As I was compiling these links I reviewed some of the webinars and was reminded of the wealth of information these contain.  I’m posting that information below and encourage you to look over the list and review a couple yourself – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Don’t forget to register for the upcoming Webinar of the Faculty’s Role in Student Retention – see the calendar link on this page to register.

APA and Grading Writing Across the Curriculum. Presenter: Dr. Everett Wade

Bring Life to Your Classroom. Presenter: Dr. Ed Garrett

Christian Worldview: Practical Applications for the Classroom. Presenter: Dr. Paul Criss

Effective Use of Library Resources. Presenter: Dr. Kim Priesmeyer

Introducing Critical Thinking into the Classroom. Presenter: Rosemary Foncree

Plagiarism: Helping Your Students Avoid It. Presenter: Dr. Kim Priesmeyer

Student Engagement Strategy: Experimentation. Presenter: Dr. Thomas Randolph

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Foster Critical Thinking. Presenters: Dr. Jerald Meadows & Elizabeth Juneau

Using Canvas to Facilitate Team Projects. Presenter: Dr. Rick Upchurch

Millennials in the Classroom. Presenter: Emma Morris

Canvas Updates 2017. Presenter: Joe Villarreal

Andragogy: Adult Learning Theory Applied. Presenter: Dr. Rick Upchurch

Accessing Case Studies from Belhaven Library. Presenter: Charles Gaudin

The Soul of the University

I’ve just started reading Restoring the Soul of the University by Perry Glanzer, Nathan Alleman, and Todd Ream.  In the introduction they state, “Redeeming the Christian university’s soul starts by recognizing that if we are made in God’s image and the world is made by God, we must first know God if we are to truly know who we are and what the world is.” (p.10)  As I reflect on this quote and the title of the book, I am thinking about both in the context of Belhaven University.  What I see reassures me that, at least at Belhaven, there is no need to restore the Soul to the University, for Belhaven can truly sing “It is Well With My Soul.” You no doubt have heard of the upcoming retirement of Dr. Dan Fredericks, our Provost.  Due to his efforts and, many others, the Soul of the University has been carefully strengthened and nurtured over the years.  The emphasis on fully incorporating a Christian World View into every aspect of Who and What Belhaven is has impacted lives, and through our graduates, their communities and the world.

For us, it is not about restoration.  Instead, it is about maintaining and enhancing the ground already gained.  This is the charge for all of us in the roles God has called us to play here at Belhaven. For Faculty, you nourish the Soul of Belhaven through your interactions in the classroom: teaching, counseling, and modeling what it means to be called of God and saved by grace. Your faith, your commitment, your discipleship are a reflection of His love into the lives of our students and our University. We cannot rest on the past, as Paul writes, “I focus on this one thing; Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Phil 3:13b,14)  I am excited to see what God has in store for the future of Belhaven University.


by Dr. Paul Criss, Dean – Belhaven University Memphis/DeSoto

2018 commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. As we celebrate the life of Dr. King this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and then prepare to commemorate the tragic day of his assassination, it seems important to reflect on his life and message. I am sure that many of you will have questions raised in your classes and you will want to encourage your students to take some time for reflection. This is especially needed due to the social unrest we have been experiencing in our country and even in academia recently.

Many students and leaders in academia are looking for glimpses of hope and truth within the current social framework. I believe our best source for reflection is history and Scripture, as did Dr. King. In his book on the history of the Civil Rights movement, David L. Chapell describes the movement as not political, but as primarily religious and spiritual. White liberal leaders in the North who were allies of the African American civil rights leaders were not advocates of civil disobedience or of a direct response to segregation. Believing in the goodness of human nature, they supported education and enlightenment to bring about social and racial progress; however, that would not be enough. Chapell argues that African American civil rights leaders were rooted in the biblical understanding of the human sin nature and in the rebuke of social injustice offered by the Hebrew prophets. He also shows that it was their vibrant faith that empowered them to press for justice despite the often violent opposition to this biblical standard. Chapell concludes that there is no way to comprehend what occurred until you see the Civil Rights movement as a religious revival.1

Dr. Timothy Keller builds on this understanding specifically addressing Dr. King’s living out of this biblical ethic in his book The Reason for God:

“When Martin Luther King, Jr., confronted racism in the white church in the South, he did not call Southern churches to become more secular. Read his sermons and ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ and see how he argued. He invoked God’s moral law and the Scripture. He called white Christians to be more true to their own beliefs and to realize what the Bible really teaches. He did not say, ‘Truth is relative and everyone is free to determine what is right or wrong for them.’ If everything is relative, there would have been no incentive for white people in the South to give up their power. Rather, Dr. King invoked the prophet Amos, who said, ‘Let justice role down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream’ (Amos 5:24). The greatest champion of justice in our era knew the antidote to racism was not less Christianity, but a deeper and truer Christianity.”2

That is the key, not only to all intellectual endeavors, but also to all social progress – to become truer as individuals and as a society to a deeper and truer Christianity. As your students inquire and as you reflect on what happened 50+ years ago and on what is happening today, it is hoped that we will personally inch closer to the biblical standard and that we will lead others to do the same.


1 Chappell, David L., A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (University of North Carolina Press, 2003).

2 Keller, Timothy, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Random House, 2008).

Helpful Online Resources:

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7 Laws of the Learner

7 Laws of the Learner is the title of a book by Bruce Wilkinson published in 1984.  The focus is on understanding how students learn and ways to enhance student learning. Because Dr. Wilkinson is a Christian, biblical principles are applied throughout the material.  He draws out the word for teach in Deut. 4:1 and learn in Deut 5:1 and shares that they have the same root.

According to Hebrew grammar, the fundamental idea … means to busy oneslef eagerly with student’s learning. Do you see how the Bible’s mindset is the opposite of the normal mindset? The Bible says that teaching means “causing learning.” This is the heart of the Law of the Learner. No longer can you or I consider teaching merely as something the teacher does in the front of the class.  Teaching is what the teacher does in the student.  How do you know if you are a great teacher? by what your students learn. p. 26-27

I know we have great teachers working at Belhaven. I know you are passionate about your students and their success. I know you go beyond expectations to do all you can to achieve student learning.  We are blessed by a faculty who recognize the biblical foundations of what they do and strive to do what they do “as unto the Lord.”

May God bless you for all you do and the lives you are impacting by your faithfulness.