Field Education is grounded in an action-reflection model of learning in which the lived experience (praxis) becomes the "text" from which we learn. We emphasize three dimensions of this learning process:
We assume that there are particular skills, tasks or competencies in which a student wishes to become proficient, and Field Education offers an arena in which these things can be practiced and honed. For example, a student serving as an intern in a congregation might want to learn how to preach, how to teach, how to visit the sick, how to organize a group of people around an issue, etc. A student doing an internship at a social agency might want to learn how to communicate with a particular constituency, how to liaison with other institutions, how to plan a community event around a particular topic, etc. Each student's goals around the doing of ministry will be shaped by the student's learning agenda as well as the opportunities available at the placement.
Our assumption is that ministry is as much about who we are as it is about what we do. Therefore, we make opportunities for engagement with issues of the self. Without being overly therapeutically focused, our hope is to create opportunities for students to give some attention to personal and/or spiritual concerns that might be present in a student's life. For example, a student might be struggling with the very personal question of vocation. Or with the dilemma of maintaining integrity in an institution around which one feels deeply ambivalent. Or perhaps a student finds that they can't say "no" to others, and therefore they find themselves spread too thinly to be effective. We all have personal and spiritual issues that have an effect on our ministry. Field Education offers a context in which to become aware of those issues and to give them some attention.
At Vanderbilt Divinity School we envision the task of theological education to be preparing women and men to be "Minister as Theologian." We want our students to function well, and we want them to be very self-aware, but we also are very committed to their ability to reflect theologically on the events of life and ministry. We want students to name and wrestle with the theological issues that are unique to their placement. For example, a student who is an intern at a hospital will, no doubt, encounter the theological issues of human suffering, the role of prayer in healing, God's role in tragedy, etc. This represents the heart of our work in Field Education - teaching students to name, unpack and wrestle with the theological issues they encounter in their work.