King Senior Erin Graybeal Presents Research on Teaching Religion: SECSOR

Erin Graybeal Don Michael Hudson King Philosophy and Religion
Erin Graybeal
Don Michael Hudson
King Philosophy and Religion

BRISTOL, Tenn., April 28, 2015 – King University senior Erin Graybeal recently presented “Teaching a Judeo-Christian Worldview to a Diverse Student Population” at the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion (SECSOR) Conference in Nashville, Tenn.

The SECSOR Conference brings together members of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature from the southeastern United States. The annual conference provides a setting for scholars in the academic study of religion, whether undergraduates, graduate students, or professors, to present and discuss ongoing research and to network with others in the region.

Graybeal will graduate from King in December with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, part of King’s Teacher Education program. She will be working towards her licensure in Elementary and Middle Grades Education. During the first semester of her freshman year, Graybeal took the first Foundations of Christian Thought and Practice course with Dr. Don Michael Hudson, associate professor of Religious Studies, chair of the Philosophy and Religion Department, and director of the King Tel Azekah Consortium.

“At the end of the semester, Dr. Hudson asked a few other students and me to come talk to him about the class,” said Graybeal. “I shared my ideas with him about what I liked about the class and provided suggestions on how some areas might be improved.”

As a result of their conversation, Dr. Hudson offered Graybeal a position as his student worker. She spent the next three and a half years working closely with Dr. Hudson to hone both the theoretical framework and practical application of the Foundations course.

One of the major features that had been implemented was the use of peer mentors along with the lecture material. “This was a good beginning, but the peer mentors were lacking organizational perspective and training,” said Graybeal. “I was very interested in providing input for the class and could see several possibilities for improvement. As an education major, I was learning how to teach at the same time that I was helping Dr. Hudson increase the rigor and relevance of the Foundations course. The ideas of pedagogy and development were fresh in my mind. As a millennial myself, I could advise Dr. Hudson on how students viewed his class and what could be improved.

Graybeal added, “Further, we wanted to ground all pedagogical changes in a theoretical framework. We discovered William G. Perry Jr., an expert in Educational Psychology, whose theoretical method models intellectual development in college students. We determined his model was most conducive and successful in teaching millennials.”

The Foundations course, at its inception, was a direct result of administration and faculty seeking to meet the needs of King’s quickly changing population while maintaining its heritage as a Presbyterian affiliated liberal arts school in the hills of Appalachia. With the school’s transition to NCAA Division II and the implementation of online degree programs, the student population of King was increasing in numbers and becoming more diverse. The Foundations course was created, in part, to teach an introduction to Judeo-Christianity within a faith tradition while being inclusive to this new generation of millennial students in a fashion to which they would not only relate but also with which they would become actively engaged.

Graybeal presented in the Teaching and Learning section of the conference. Her presentation, “Teaching a Judeo-Christian Worldview to a Diverse Student Population,” is a direct result of her work with Hudson.

“Erin and I have been developing this course for four years now. We worked together, and, utilizing feedback from other students, were able to take this course to the next level,” said Hudson.

He added, “It has been very important to have [Erin’s] input [on the Foundations course] because many professors teach in a top-down fashion. That doesn’t work well for millennials. It has been invaluable to bring in someone like Erin, who is a millennial, to listen to her about what does and what does not work. We have been successful with the course because we have tried new techniques and, after evaluating what works well, adjust each semester to provide a course that engages the students. This work is both unconventional and groundbreaking in not only what we are teaching but also how we are teaching it. ”

“It was an honor to present at the conference,” said Graybeal. “I was encouraged by their interest in my research. The Foundations course, on which my research is based, is the only one we have found operating on this model where you are teaching a large class and including group discussions, peer mentors who are paid, specialized workbooks, and thematic units. This teaching format is a novel idea that has now proven successful, and we want to share it with others. We are seeing results. We have students every semester who say this class has changed their lives.

Graybeal concluded, “If we can inspire somebody at a school that is looking for an answer to revitalize their program to train more people in careers for ministry and missions and social work and education, and so much more, then that is what we want to do.”