A White Paper
The D. James Kennedy Institute of Reformed Leadership
Erskine Theological Seminary
Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.
Protest of the Seminary; James H. Ragsdale Chair of Missions and Evangelism; President, D. James Kennedy Institute of Reformed Leadership Chaplain (Colonel) U.S. Army Retired
October 2, 2020
Student questions concerning independent and directed studies frequently reveal a misunderstanding of the nature of each, as well as the ordinary requirements of such studies. The matter is also one of pedagogy. In a sense, independent study and directed study are faculty-granted privileges extended to graduate and postgraduate student with the expectation that the student (given his advancement in higher education) can evaluate presenting issues of the respective course, propose a research question for the independent or guided study period, create a learning pathway, execute independent research, critical thinking, theological reflection, and practical or pastoral application. This paper concludes with select bibliography articles by the author on the matter of research and writing, citation, references, and a philosophy of teaching. Further resources are provided by the author on his faculty page: https://michaelmilton.org/faculty-page. Independent Study and Directed Study in Graduate and Postgraduate Theological Higher Education
This paper seeks to explain the nature of the independent study and directed study in theological higher education especially at Erskine Theological Seminary; and, in particular, for the benefit of those studying under the author.
The Nature of Independent Study and Directed Study
There is a sense in which both directed study and independent study are faculty-granted privileges extended to students who have demonstrated or have the potential for independent research. Most doctoral students enjoy the presumption of that ability by way of admission into the program.
Independent reading, research, and writing are key elements and necessary sills for both directed study and independent study. This is quite different from the classroom environment. For some, such an autonomous approach to learning can be disorienting. I am reminded of the Rhodes Scholar from West Point (Craig M. Mullane in The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education, 2009) who showed up at his first lecture at Oxford University. Expecting to receive a syllabus, directions on papers he should write, and a list of books to read, he was confused that he received none of those. Coming out of a highly regimental educational approach (a modified version of almost every American university’s approach tho teaching and learning), this open-ended approach surprised him. The professor mentioned nothing about”deliverables,” mini-exams, midterms, and finals. Still thinking that there was a problem, the American second lieutenant arranged for a visit with the Oxford don. The ambitious and highly organized Army officer asked the professor, ”How shall I go about this study?” The professor responded, “You will read.” But what to read? “What you need to read to answer the questions you have.” The officer persisted, “But what about papers and tests?” The professor said, “You will have one at the conclusion of the class.” Such a research-focused approach to learning was unknown to the West Point graduate. However, after experiencing the thrill of locating the right question, laying out a plan of study, and pursuing the main and subsidiary research questions, the Army officer discovered a way of learning that would become a staple for his military leadership and, eventually, his civilian role in journalism.
Self-directed study, or guided study, by way of providing a bibliography of books to read, can become a enormously liberating experience for those who recognize the requirements and goals of such study. The requirements for independent study include:
Requirements for Independent and Directed Studies
To begin with, there are character traits that must be in place to sustain independent research of any kind, including these two forms of study in seminary:
- Humility, and
- Perseverance are the character qualities needed for the independent or guided study.
Some of the necessary skills for independent and guided course study include:
- Locating the presenting issues surrounding the topic you wish to study
- Framing the research question so that the hope-for answer leads to the construction of a strong road. This road is the map for research and learning.
- You will need to develop skills in diagnosis, evaluation, locating and assessing current literature of the subject (with a concern for a taxonomy of references), critical thinking, theological reflection, practical or pastoral application.
Of course, we are not Oxford or Cambridge (or European universities which also follow the ancient British research model). However, we are a graduate school that values the acquired skills and wisdom that independent research provides.
What are the Differences between Independent Study and Directed Study?
Some might be tempted to give a cursory glance at the two methods of independent research at our school and respond that “Independent Study and Directed Study are merely distinctions without a difference.” One could understand such an assessment if the student had not examined the two models carefully. However, there are both distinctions and differences between the two.
Practically, the differences between independent study and directed study are, at least, for our purposes, essentially matters of set courses, syllabi, or crafted plan for a topic of the student’s choosing.
In directed study, the student follows a syllabus that is the same as in the taught course. The differences between the taught course and the directed study will be laid out by the faculty member in the customized syllabus. On the other hand, independent study involves a student’s petition to study a matter of concern to the student—generally, this is a topic of scholarly use in his or her dissertation—and to do so by the construction of a learning plan.
A Research Learning Plan
The learning plan for independent study should involve
- A presenting issue or problem;
- A research question that will involve an answer to pursue (rather than a thesis to prove);
- An assessment of the importance of the matter and its relationship to your dissertation topic, if you have one;
- A gathering of pertinent literature on the subject with an evaluation of the literature;
- Lessons and conclusions; and
- A final paper of 25 pages (for DMIN students).
The paper should, them, provide demonstration of your independent research. The best way that this is done is by citations, including at least six peer-reviewed journal articles(to learn more about pier review journal articles see my paper on that subject).
Independent research and writing can be extremely satisfying methods of learning for the graduate and postgraduate student. However, this method of study is loaded with inherent possibilities for cultivating skills; skills that will be used, in our case, in the practice of pastoral ministry. The “cure of souls” requires that Christian Shepherds locate the presenting issues, evaluate the issues, research and isolate resources to help you (in the Bible, church history, scholarship, and the range of human endeavor) move from diagnosis to treatment (with the appropriate expression of Word, Sacrament, and Prayer) and; assessment of the treatment, with changes made to bring spiritual healing.
While independent research might be new to you, this method of learning is an ancient practice. We trust that is you begin your studies recognizing opportunities for fruitful learning that can be applied every area of your life and ministry. We pray that you will also find joy in the journey as you”follow the footnote trail.”
Milton, Michael A. “A Philosophy of Teaching.” Faith for Living, Inc., May 21, 2019. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://michaelmilton.org/2019/05/20/a-teaching-philosophy/.
———. “A Taxonomy of References in Writing Graduate-Level Theological Papers,” June 21, 2019. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://michaelmilton.org/2019/06/21/a-taxonomy-of-references-in-writing-graduate-level-theological-papers/.
———. “Academic Research and Writing Resources: All About Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles.” Faith for Living, Inc., April 1, 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://michaelmilton.org/2020/04/01/peer-reviewed-journal-articles/.
———. “Following the Footnote Trail: The Deeper Learning Model in Theological Higher Education.” Faith for Living, Inc., January 14, 2019. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://michaelmilton.org/2019/01/14/following-the-footnote-trail-the-deeper-learning-model-in-theological-higher-education/.
———. “Online Citation Management.” Faith for Living, Inc., February 19, 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://michaelmilton.org/2020/02/18/online-citation-management/.
———. “Seminary Announces Online Teaching and Learning Course Opportunity.” Faith for Living, Inc., May 27, 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://seminary.erskine.edu/seminary-announces-online-teaching-and-learning-course-opportunity/.
———. “Teaching in Theological Higher Education: A Modest Proposal.” Faith for Living, Inc., January 12, 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://michaelmilton.org/2020/01/12/teaching-in-theological-higher-education-a-modest-proposal/.
———. “What Is Theology & Why Is It Important to Understand?” Salem Communications, no. 02 October 2020 (2020). Accessed October 2, 2020. https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/what-is-theology-why-is-it-important.html.
———. “Writing the Weekly Research Paper.” Faith for Living, Inc., July 24, 2016. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://michaelmilton.org/2016/07/24/writing-the-weekly-research-paper/.
———. “Writing the Weekly Theological Research Paper.” Faith for Living, Inc., 2017. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://michaelmilton.org/2017/05/31/writing-the-weekly-theological-research-paper/.
Mullaney, Craig M. The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education. Illustrated Edition. New York: Penguin Books, 2010.
Shore, Zachary. Grad School Essentials: A Crash Course in Scholarly Skills. 1st Edition. University of California Press, 2016.