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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2021)

Colleague 2 Colleague, Author

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Rick Bartlett: My Apple watch saved my life...

By Rick Bartlett, Associate Dean for the School of Graduate Studies, the Director of Graduate Theological Programs, and Associate Professor of Ministry, Tabor College


It was a typical day driving to work. I was frustrated again with the flow of traffic and my inability to get to work in what I felt was a timely manner. A car pulled in front of me, and as I slowed down and my blood pressure started to rise, it suddenly hit me, “I’m a small-town boy from the U.S., and I’m driving to work in England. How many people would love to be in my shoes right now?” 

Figure 1.  St. Albans Cathedral

Figure 2.  Harry Potter Studio Tour

I often tell people I have never had a “career.” However, I have had the privilege of wearing many different professional hats through the years in a number of different States and in the UK. I’m convinced this has given me a unique perspective which can be an asset as well as a liability. The asset is I can bring a variety of experiences to bear in work and life. The liability with this is not feeling like I’ve gone into one area in depth. I have friends who have a vast amount of information on one particular subject and their knowledge can make me feel like a grade schooler in comparison.

If there is one common thread in my career, it’s that I have had the opportunity to work with youth and young adults for over 37 years. I started out after graduating from Fresno Pacific College (now University) by working as a youth pastor in a church. I served for a number of years while also completing a Master of Divinity at the Mennonite Brethren (MB) Biblical Seminary in Fresno. After completing this master’s degree, my wife and I moved to England where we worked with an organization called Youth for Christ (YFC) for 7 years. A fun fact is both our two children were born there.

After we returned to the States, I worked three more years with YFC (in Tacoma), and then was hired by the Seminary I graduated from to direct a Lilly Endowment sponsored program for high school students. This was a joy to be able to work with some of the most motivated and inspired youth from the MB denomination. I was able to build a staff team, and we helped these youth to think about their vocation, the hopes they had for the future, and possible steps forward. I’m excited to say that almost 20 years later, many of these students are serving in business, education, and the church. It was while working at the seminary that I completed a Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership in the Emerging Culture at George Fox University.

Figure 3.  Tabor MEI Graduation 2021

Fast-forwarding a bit, in 2012, I was hired by Tabor College to create an MA program in Ministry Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Currently I am the Associate Dean for the School of Online and Graduate studies at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas.

I have been married 35 years and have two children.

Figure 4.  The Bartlett Family Today

Work Life

Q:  What is your current professional role, and what does your work entail?  

As I’ve mentioned, one recurring theme in my professional life is wearing multiple hats. I’ve rarely had a job where I focused exclusively on one thing. Currently I serve at Tabor College where I am the Associate Dean for the School of Graduate studies, the Director of Graduate Theological programs, and Associate Professor of Ministry. On a day-to-day basis, I check in and manage a small staff working with Graduate programs. I oversee it all from academics, to recruitment, to marking, to budgets. I’ve had to learn to know a little about a lot of things.

As a faculty member, I direct an online MA program in Ministry Entrepreneurship and Innovation which means either teaching a course or lining up and working to staff a course from a select pool of adjuncts. This degree is fully online apart from two face to face experiences, one at the beginning in late August, where students come to Wichita for 5 days, and another at the end of the first academic year, when we take an international trip together. I have to organize and plan both of those events.

Q:  Why did you choose this particular field?  Or how did you end up working in this area? 

This is such a great question. As a person who seeks to follow Jesus with my life, my wife and I have always tried to have an open hand with potential work requests. On one hand, I come from a family of educators. My dad is a retired High School Guidance Counselor; my mom was a first-grade teacher. I have two sisters (and a brother-in-law) who are all teachers, so one could say it’s part of my DNA. However, as I’ve described above, I have had a number of jobs where although teaching was a part, it’s not the main thing.

How I got specifically to Tabor is an interesting story. I was attending a conference where I ran into the President of Tabor College. He had been the Dean of the Graduate school where I did my doctorate, so we were chatting and catching up. I mentioned how much I enjoyed being an adjunct for Fresno Pacific University in their degree completion program, and he asked if I would consider transitioning to college teaching (from the pastorate) full time. He had been given the green light by the Tabor College Board of Directors to create the brand-new MEI degree, and he invited me to apply for the role. I did and was hired.

Figure 5.  Lohrenz Building, Tabor College

Q:  What makes your work interesting? 

I get the opportunity to be creative on multiple fronts. First, as a team leader, I get to work with the other faculty and staff to market, troubleshoot, and dream about how to make Tabor Online grow. As a faculty member, I was able to create the MEI program from scratch. I was humbled when the first graduates walked across the stage for hooding.  That a concept that began in my head had become an accredited degree program.  That was the best feeling in the world.

I am also energized by seeing other people following their vision or accomplishing their goals. Whether that is a youth, or a master’s student, I love encouraging, opening doors where I can, and creating a space where learning can take place. One student said this to me, and I think it summarizes my life well, “You like to look for a little flame, and then you pour gasoline on it.” Seeing others move forward and accomplish their goals brings me a lot of life.

Creating connections for students with one another, and with people I know doing entrepreneurial or innovative work, is also life-giving and interesting.

About Writing Books

Q:  What has it been like to write co-write a book (Consuming Youth)?  How do you assign roles with your colleagues (as co-writers)?  How do you find a topic?  

I actually stumbled into co-writing Consuming Youth. I attended a small national event for youth ministry educators in Canada and as I introduced myself to the group, I was able to share about the Lilly sponsored Ministry Quest program I was directing in Fresno. After the session John and James (my co-authors) came up, invited me to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and over chips and salsa asked if I would be interested in collaborating with them on a book they were planning to pitch to a publisher. John and James were both educators at different colleges in Canada, and both used Generation on Hold: Coming of Age in the Late Twentieth Century by James Cote and Anton Allahar, a sociology of youth text in their classes but were looking for a resource which also provided not only a good understanding of the current culture, but also looked at the topic through the lens of faith. They had already spoken with the Coming of Age authors and received encouragement to press forward. They were inspired by the way the Ministry Quest program was practically implementing areas they wanted to cover in the book, and they asked me to join to write the implementation chapters. I had just completed a doctoral dissertation and was looking for ways to get the findings out, so this was a perfect match.

Figure 6.  Consuming Youth (cover)

Q:  Are there stressors in co-writing, such as maybe having different points of view or different values or different approaches? 

James worked as a sociologist with Reginald Bibby, the George Gallup of Canada, and had access to a wide variety of data that we could use in the book. His expertise was valuable to set the stage for the sociological impact we were hoping to have. John took the lead to compile the materials and make it sound like it was coming from one “voice.” Probably the biggest stressor was writing with two co-authors who were based in Canada. We met twice in person.  The second time was when they invited me to join them, and from that point forward we worked via email and phone (this was a pre-facetime and Zoom world).  Obviously with three of us, disagreements with editing required more time to work out. Working as a virtual team was difficult in a time before virtual teams were a thing. I learned a lot about collaboration and how important clarity is in any project.  

Q:  How do you reach out to the younger generations through writing?  Do you have to work at connecting with younger generations? 

The target audience for our book are people who work with youth rather than the youth themselves. But to your question, currently, I do not think I have to work too hard at connecting with young people. I have had the opportunity to work with youth and young adults for going on 37 years, so I have a lot to draw on. My wife and I also had children a bit later in life and they keep me connected with culture even if I am not fully participating in it. For example, I am very aware of Snapchat and TikTok even though I don’t have accounts on either of those platforms.

Q:  How do you know when a book is done? People sometimes say that they know that they “have a book in them.”  Is that your experience, too?  And then, how would you know that you have a book to pursue inside, given how hard it is to research and write one?  

One of my mentors who has written over 30 books told me once that he keeps multiple books in development at a time. He used the metaphor of horses in a stable, and we worked with them until they were ready to be set free. At that point he would publish. I appreciate that perspective and so I keep a folder of ideas and snippets of articles or chapters that may or may not come to anything. At the current time, if I were to write another book, it would likely be one that looks at the intersection of health and technology. One draft I am working on is titled “My Apple Watch Saved my Life,” and the basic premise, which will be one piece of the keynote I share at SIDLIT, is how the technology in my watch and phone has helped me to accomplish more than the health goals I have set for myself. I am nerdy enough to keep track of my exercise, standing and movement, and the free tools provided by the tech I carry, and wear has helped me to objectify what I do and how I do it. This has been tremendously helpful for me.

What I am also interested in is where technology and health intersects with AI.

Q:  How do you pursue academic research?  What topics interest you, and why? 

Currently because I am enrolled in the certificate program at Emporia State University (ESU) in Instructional Design, the areas I am researching all have to do with instructional design (ID). This has been extremely helpful for the work I do and is immediately practical.

About “Humanizing” Education and Technologies

Q:  What does “humanizing learning at a distance” mean to you in your professional role?  And what advice do you have for teachers and instructors to achieve humanizing learning at a distance for their learners?

I transitioned to teaching online after a number of years of teaching graduate and undergraduate students in a face-to-face environment. I’ve always been a person keen on technology, but I do not have specific training (until now, I’m enrolled in the Emporia State IDT program) in the pedagogy of online teaching.

I was hired by Tabor College to create a fully online program and was given very little guidelines beyond that. I spent about 6 months researching and reading about online education, pedagogy, andragogy and best practices, and I came across a line that stated one of online students’ greatest fears was being all alone in an online course. This struck a nerve with me and sent me on a journey to find ways to make human connections for distance education.

One formative piece for me during this time was participating in the e-Learning and Digital Cultures (EDC) MOOC on Coursera in 2013. This course, offered by the University of Edinburgh drew about 25,000 students and focused on principles of e-learning. It was just what I needed at the exact time I was working to build the program for Tabor.

From this course, I learned a lot about humanizing learning on both the massive and the distant educational platforms. The instructors hosted live Google Hangouts and students could send in questions during the livestream. In addition, I joined in on weekly Twitter chat, even joining a team who hosted the chat one week. More than anything this team connected me with a group of people scattered all around the world and as the class continued, we became “fraingers” (friends who are strangers), a phrased coined by one of our group.

There were a number of other practices that framed my thinking while participating in this MOOC. The primary piece that I took away is how critical it is for students to connect with other students. As pointed out in the Community of Inquiry model, in the area of social presence, students want to be able to express their humanity and to know they are more than just a name on a screen. EDCMOOC gave me tools to address this concern in my current teaching. For example, I host a weekly live session with students on Zoom. We also use a Facebook group for current and former students as a place to interact and continue to share learning. Each cohort has also set up their own slack groups, text threads, WhatsApp groups, etc. The one message I hear consistently about our program when students graduate is how much they will miss the regular interaction with their colleagues in the cohort. That makes me think we must be doing something right.

Q:  What technologies do you recommend for instructors / teachers to engage effectively with students online? 

I appreciate VoiceThread very much and have used that tool consistently for years. Although I have just begun to use the video recording feature in Canvas to accomplish the same purpose, to get distance education students seeing and hearing one another.

Tabor College started using Zoom when it first came out and it is my go-to video conferencing tool. I use it from recruitment all the way to live class sessions.

One fun thing about my current teaching, for numerous assignments in the MEI program, I allow students to submit an “artifact” and I am purposely vague on what that can be. What has been fun is to see the new technologies that students use to submit their work, from Canva, Wakelet, Prezi, to TikTok. I learn from my students what new applications are out there.

Q:  Why is it important for instructors / teachers to teach with digital technologies? 

It might surprise people to learn I am not a digital native; instead, I would classify myself as a digital immigrant. However, I have always been someone interested and excited about technology. I remember getting my first PC back in 1987 and thinking it was the best thing ever. I even told my wife, “It has a 40-megabyte hard drive!   We’ll never need anything bigger!” (What a joke!)

I believe educators should leverage digital technologies because it is where our students are living. We need to recognize they are inhabiting this space and it’s up to us to engage with it. When we stop to think, so much of the current “hot” technologies are used for human connection. This points to a strong need/desire in our culture that as educators we need to be taking seriously.

About 2020

Q:  What have you learned about yourself in 2020, with so many pressures?  How have you changed?  And do you think these changes are “forever”?  Why or why not?  

This is an excellent question, and to answer it, I need to go back to the Fall of 2019. I had a sabbatical that semester and spent time thinking and researching the topic of creativity. I entered that fall feeling dry and tired and had a vague feeling I needed to tap into my inner artist in order to keep thriving into the future. In addition to creativity, that term I spent a lot of time thinking about and practicing mindfulness. Once the pandemic kicked in, these two resources proved immensely valuable and practicing mindfulness and seeking creativity (which for me is in cooking) helped me cope with the long season of lockdown and its aftermath.

Another practice that has been immensely valuable to me has been running. I used to never run.  I thought I couldn’t and wouldn’t even try. Through a series of events, I ran my first 5K in 2017. I found (when I got the correct shoes and trained using the guided runs on the Nike Run app) that running was something I could do. I ran my first half-marathon during my sabbatical. The pandemic reemphasized and stressed the importance of a physical practice for mental health. One of the things I will talk about in my keynote is the importance from a neurobiological perspective of exercise on the body. I have found running to be essential to my mental health and has been a lifeline to me during the pandemic.

Figure 7.  Rick Bartlett Running a Half-Marathon

After the sabbatical, I entered the Spring 2020 term feeling a lot of energy and excitement. Since everything I teach is online, when the pandemic shut down our campus and moved everyone to emergency remote learning, my courses and classes continued unaffected. However, I did suddenly find myself (along with our LMS coordinator) as the “Online Guru” helping colleagues move their courses from F2F to remote. Some did an excellent job, others not so much. Interestingly the ones who were open and willing to learn created the best courses for students, those who thought they knew it all usually created sub-par classes.

I believe many of the changes we have experienced are forever. I see hybrid courses, the use of Zoom, and remote working becoming the new normal.

Q:  What ideas do you have for helping students catch up for 2020 as a “lost year”?  Is it possible to catch up, or will students have an  “unbridgeable gaps” because they may have missed windows in their learning?  

When you ask about “students,” I think about those I work with- college and graduate students. However, I am aware your readers come from all backgrounds and are working with K-12 as well. My wife works in a K-12 school, and I know this past academic year has been extremely challenging for the children at her school.

I do not know what we need to do to recapture this lost year. On one hand, I believe humans are naturally curious and when motivated will pursue the knowledge necessary to grow and learn in an area. At the same time, I recognize there are many children, youth and young adults in our world who lack resources and support. I wonder about this divide and hope we as a society are able to address this.  

On a personal level, I mentioned earlier about the international trip component of the MEI program. In 2020, I had to cancel the trip (for obvious reasons) and make a substitution in the student’s academic schedules. I am still grieving the loss of that experience and opportunity with those students. This was a loss that cannot ever be regained.

Figure 8.  MEI International Trip- 2019 (in Romania)

Q:  How do you see the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic affecting education in the near-term future?  The midterm? The far-term? 

I think the pandemic will have long term implications for education. As an example, many corporations have gone completely remote with their workforce; REI and Root Insurance decided to have employees work remotely indefinitely. The Pandemic has accelerated a move toward remote work that no one would have thought possible in 2019. I am convinced this will impact education – although mostly for those who have the means to leverage it. Students will be able to access teachers and classrooms far beyond their local area. If a teacher at a top school is livestreaming his or her class, why couldn’t a student in Oklahoma join in? I think we’ll see a move in this direction. Connected to this is the point that if an employee can work from anywhere will we see people moving into regions with higher performing school districts? Will this be in cities or more rural areas? I think we will have to wait to see where this lands.

Another implication of the pandemic is the mental health needs that have emerged. Educators will need to be trauma informed and prepared. I was talking with a friend in Canada, and he mentioned in his province all faculty and staff are being trained in “Mental Health First-Aid.” Maybe we need to do something similar here.

I see an area where an entrepreneur could create a new business like Khan Academy, find a way to virtually provide missing pieces for students in the areas of reading, history, and social science.

About 2021

Q:  What are your hopes and ambitions for this year?

I hope educators take the lead in healing this fractured country. If people who are thoughtful, educated and experienced with a wide variety of diverse people don’t speak up against the polarization in this world, who will?

Personally, I hope to be able to travel again, to visit friends and family and not worry I may be bringing an illness that will end their life.

My ambitions would be to get back to a few in-person 5k’s, I miss the energy and excitement that comes from running with a crowd around.

Finally, and I will talk about this in my keynote, I have a much better work-life balance as a result of the pandemic and its aftermath. I realized that if something were to happen to me, within a couple weeks my job would be posted and within a month or so another person would have been hired. But for my family, my loss would be irreplaceable. I have reached the point where I want to invest and focus my life in a way that brings me life and joy, and that brings connection with my family.

About the Author

Rick Bartlett is the Associate Dean for the School of Graduate studies, the Director of Graduate Theological programs, and Associate Professor of Ministry at Tabor College. He joined the Wichita campus in 2012 to create and design the online Ministry Entrepreneurship and Innovation MA degree.

Dr. Bartlett has worked in a variety of church-based and academic roles in California, Washington, and the United Kingdom (UK). He earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from George Fox University in Leadership in the Emerging Culture. He travels and speaks extensively and has visited over 14 countries. One recent passion is the intersection of AI (artificial intelligence) and humanity.

He wrote a prior piece for C2C Digital Magazine titled "Can Someone Really Prepare for Ministry Online?" (in the Fall 2018 / Winter 2019 issue). 

He tweets at @rbb2nd and can be reached at  

The Q&A questions were created by the following two: 

April Robbs may be reached at

Shalin Hai-Jew may be reached at 

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