Areas of Interest: Futures of the Church

For the Future of Our Work: The Two AIs

Future Trends, Innovative Education, Theological Reflection
8 - minutes to engage

For the Future of Our Work: The Two AIs 

By Dr. Jodi L. Porter

Sometimes I wonder if the church is a phone booth in a cell-phone world. We tend to operate on the trailing end rather than the leading edge in our rapidly-changing societies. Perhaps our current efforts in education and ministry, at least sometimes, would resonate more with the Western societies of the 1950s than our current contexts. 

But as we curate and share ancient sacred traditions, we can lead the way into faithful futures. I don’t mean to say the church should define culture or conform to culture, but perhaps we can be proactive – our own unique, best selves – amidst culture. After all, we do have a Good Story to tell, but it is our task to tell it in these times. 

Here at Acadia Divinity College, we are deeply committed to the church, the academy, and the connections between them. If your work or interests are connected to either of these, maybe you’ve also been wondering: What does the future look like? What resources can we leverage to anticipate it? How can we shape the future, faithfully? 

Liminal Times 

These are liminal (transitional) times. On one hand, any persons of Christian faith are always living in liminal times. We’re in this challenging yet often beautiful space between the “already” of Jesus’s resurrection and the “not yet” of his return. We’re between the advent of God’s redemption of all creation and the completion of that redemption. And in this liminal space, we get to co-create with God in work that brings reconciliation, healing, and beloved community. 

On the other hand, we are living in times as transitional as the Industrial Revolution, with significant societal shifts and technologies like generative AI. As theological educators, or pastors, or laity, how are we to do our work in this season? How might we embody the Good News in ways that feel less like Yesterday’s News? 

The First AI: Indigenous Appreciative Inquiry 

We are learning from our family at NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community about Appreciative Inquiry (AI#1). This AI is an asset-based, community development process aimed at hearing all voices and identifying strengths on which to build. Because they are guiding us through their adaptation of AI, they call the process Indigenous Appreciative Inquiry (IAI). Rooted in storytelling, IAI takes a relational approach to strategic visioning and planning. IAI invites a community to discover (or rediscover) their core values, dream about new intentional ways to realize those values in their work, design related new hopes and plans, and deliver those innovations. The process is iterative, one that a community might revisit regularly to continue learning and growing around their values. 

ADC is leaning into IAI as a resource for rethinking our classroom strategies, curriculum, and support for churches. Together with NAIITS, ADC, Tyndale Seminary, and Ambrose Seminary comprise the Canadian Learning Community (CLC), a new partnership centred on IAI that we hope will help show the way forward for theological education across Canada and beyond. 

And what have we learned so far?  

IAI as a Tool for Contextual Learning and Ministry 

IAI is an essential tool for this liminal season. As the demographics in our theological schools and churches become more diverse, as church movements come perhaps full circle and prioritize small house gatherings like those in the New Testament, as individuals seek more agency in curating their religious experiences, we need a tool that welcomes our particularities and empowers us to utilize them for common good work. We need a tool that helps us hear each other and collaborate for faithful work in the world. IAI is just such a resource. It resonates with the best emerging scholarship in higher education, which observes that the best learning is contextual learning among individuals within community. 

Along these lines, we are researching a new educational approach first mentioned to us by the director of NAIITS, Shari Russell: heutagogy.1  Pedagogy focuses on instructing as we might with children, and andragogy emphasizes facilitation as we might with adults. Both presume that, to some extent, the instructor or pastor is the “sage on the stage.” By contrast, heutagogy focuses on student-determined learning. It emphasizes the “wisdom in the room.” What contexts do individuals bring to the church or classroom? What previous knowledge? What interests? Heutagogy can help us shape classrooms and churches so everyone might help choose what and how they want to learn. This educational approach can help us hear diverse perspectives, adjust to diverse interests and needs, and serve well within diverse contexts. 

The Second AI: Generative Artificial Intelligence 

Here’s where we get to that other AI you’ve been wondering about: generative artificial intelligence (AI#2).  

Are there ways to utilize new AI technologies faithfully as we aim for more contextual learning?2 What if we explored the possibilities of generative AI, like ChatGPT, for the work of a theological school or a church? 

At ADC, we have formed a research group, comprised of President Dr. Anna Robbins, Director of Technology for Education Rev. John Campbell, Research Assistant Mr. Vipin Joseph, and myself, Director of Education for Ministry Innovation, to explore just that question. We are using ChatGPT 4.0 to build an ADC Course Content Creator, an AI tool that knows our institutional commitments, desired program outcomes, and typical syllabus structure, among other essential details. We will ask ChatGPT 4.0 to design and deliver a course on AI and Ethics as a directed study for a handful of our eligible bachelor’s or master’s students, and we will invite our faculty and students to reflect on the quality and experience of the course. 

Can you imagine? When we succeed with this kind of experiment, the possibilities are endless. Our faculty could use the tool to save time on some of their tedious work (like drafting syllabi and recording videos), using that time instead to enhance their academic research or their mentorship with students. Faculty from other institutions could adapt the tool to know the parameters of their own institution and use it for similar purposes. Pastors or laity could utilize the tool too, adjusted to know the commitments of their own communities, to save time on responsibilities like drafting sermons or preparing worship services. And in doing so, church leaders could focus instead on curating a vast amount of quickly-emerging new resources, helping those seeking God or life purpose discern the most helpful resources among the many available at their technological fingertips. 

We even have thought, here at ADC, our students could create some of their own classes – whether they live domestically or internationally. A pastoral student from a particular geographic or ministerial context could use the tool to design a course meant to help them serve their context best. And the Course Creator, over time, also could learn from all the experiences the students create, shaping even more robust, contextual experiences for the next faculty and students who engage it. 

Heutagogy at its finest, maybe? 

As our excitement builds around the possibilities, we plan to navigate concerns regarding intellectual property, academic integrity, and privacy. It is for this reason we are utilizing a paid version of ChatGPT, 4.0 (which offers some protections), and beginning with a course in AI and Ethics. These kinds of concerns are not unimportant, and we believe they are not insurmountable. 

We are living in an age when we have realized that the theological academy or even our churches may be limited to too few voices. We also happen to be living in an age when we have a technology that can help us with that very challenge. If we put these two AIs together, Indigenous Appreciative Inquiry and generative artificial intelligence, we can lead the way forward through these liminal times. 

Through heutagogy and contextualized courses and other resources, we can empower more voices to tell the Good News for these good days. 

Join Us 

We at the ADC Futuring Lab invite you to watch this space as we develop related resources for your ongoing work: 

  • Offer your insights and comments here on our interactive white board. Your feedback will shape the resources we create.
  • For ADC faculty, we will offer additional IAI sessions and resources on heutagogy to help shape curriculum. We also will ask for your help with our generative AI experiment – we are eager to share what we learn and solicit your feedback.
  • For pastors and laity, contact us here if you’d be interested in ADC facilitating some sessions on IAI or futuring with your congregation. We offer in-person workshops and online webinars. 
  • For peers in theological education, we will post resources from our presentations at the Pathways Gathering / ATS Biennial to be held in Atlanta (June 2024). Also, stay tuned on the MacRae Centre website for further updates and resources on futuring in theological education.  

 

*The work of the Futuring Lab is made possible by a generous grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. (LEI) and a collaborative grant, funded by LEI, held by NAIITS. 

 

  1. Read with us as we learn more about this alternative classroom approach (to pedagogy or andragogy). Moore, Robert L. (2020). Developing lifelong learning with heutagogy: contexts, critiques, and challenges. Distance Education(41)3, 381-401ReisdorferEmilene et al. (2024)Heutagogy: A pedagogical framework for cultivating critical consciousness in nursing studentsInternational Journal of Caring Sciences(17)1, 593-602; Sahin Sarkin, D. Bahar and Gökçe Güvercin Seçkin. (2023)Çukurova University Faculty of Education Journal(52)2, 381-411.
  2. Explore the possibilities with us! For a resource that shares thirty ways AI can support your current teaching and learning efforts, as well as key insights for navigating new concerns regarding “cheating” and “plagiarism” due to AI, see Miller, M. (2023)AI for Educators: Learning Strategies, Teacher Efficiencies, and A Vision for AArtificial Intelligence Future. 

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