Formatio Future : Education (Next)

by Len Hjalmarson

Cynthia Ware writes,

"In the book The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, author James Surowiecki explores the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group. Similarly, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott & Anthony Williams describes a new economy born out of peering, sharing and crowdsourcing. Online communication means provide a way for there to be unlimited resources for conversation, collaboration, contribution and community. It is in such an environment that teamwork operating via group participation becomes the most accepted order."

ONE of the implications of this new reality for learning and collaboration is already evident in the classroom. In an average graduate school classroom, there are one or two students who know more than the professor on a given question (exceptions: theological and biblical scholars). The professor will hopefully offer a conceptual framework, a working map, that enables him to navigate the subject, and demonstrate relation of parts to the whole and the dynamics of the system more effectively than any individual student. But as the complexity of our culture and the issues around the gospel, culture, leadership and transition multiply, and contexts themselves multiply and therefore unseen potentials increase - the many are smarter than the one. Moreover, every conversation is multithreaded, particularly with students jacked-in. How should instructors acknowledge this new reality?

* acknowledge that context is becoming more important than content

"Data is plentiful but mentors are not." In the end what does a professor offer that is more than data? His or her own person. We are rediscovering the power and potential of the mentor. As James Houston put it, "We forget that the nurturing and caring relationship is inherent in effective teaching. Wisdom, after all, is more than data processing." The lived experience of the professor and their ability to bring self to the process will grow in importance. We have many teachers but “not many fathers.”

Related: theological education needs to become a process rooted in living communities. I fear like I am a broken record on this point. So much of what is wrong with our enter ekklesial paradigm in the west is the separation of theory and life, and the separation of our learning and engagement processes into discrete (rationalized) parts. David Fitch is the great prophet on this point. But if we can move toward wholeness and reintegration in our practices we have a chance at rerooting study under the umbrella of WORSHIP.

* remember that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”

Anyone can collate data. And the rate of data growth and accessibility to data is off the charts. But the ability to intuit an interpretive framework, and then communicate that framework, is less common. We need structural thinkers who can intuit the whole while messing about with the smallest pieces. We need “meaning makers,” a function that is poetic and prophetic.

* surf on the the wisdom of the collective

Instructors must not only bring self to the process, but must embody the learning process in ways that feel vulnerable. We must invite collaboration and willingly admit our limits. Humility with regard to the truth is an expression of our finitude in the face of increased complexity, but is also a recognition of the Body and our need of the other.

With our old maps not functioning, theological schools will have to become places of communal discernment. The stories brought by students - stories from the hurly-burly of congregational life, and even from missional life on the street - may open the possibility of new engagement. As Alan Roxburgh put it, “the theological task today is to begin with a hermeneutics of appreciation which seeks to discern - like a poet offering language that gives meaning to people’s experience by inviting them into a space of new possibilities or a mid-wife detecting the rhythms of a birth that has begun but not pressed out - the narratives under the narratives among the faithful living in a strange liminal place. This listening cannot be from some position outside and above the life of ordinary people in our churches as answers and the actions based in some universal, abstract truth. It is a listening that can only take place by being with and among a people.”

* related: build on the potential of reverse mentoring

In the fourth chapter of “Off Road Disciplines” Earl Creps waxes eloquent about these new realities and argues for “reverse mentoring.” He describes the rich educational experience of humbly asking young people questions about things he “doesn’t get.”

“The Internet has triggered the first industrial revolution in history to be led by the young” (42). Creps resides in www.iDontGetIt.com . “I am from the planet 8-Track and they live on a world called iPod.” He admits that clumsiness pays off among Homo Postmodernus, and the encyclopedic knowledge of the young about this new world is the only way we 8-Track natives will ever survive it. Interesting, “Corporations see the value of accessing tacit knowledge and now routinely require their marketing and sales personnel to engage in reverse mentoring with those young enough to intuit the dynamics of emerging markets” (46). Creps is careful to note the modus operandi of reverse mentoring. It is not about who has knowledge and authority: it is decidedly egalitarian. “Reverse mentoring involves a specific form of friendship based on trust.”

* become adept at cross-contextualization

Looking around the average graduate classroom, most students are jacked in. The laptop is ubiquitous. What does this mean? The average student today reads 8 books in a year, but visits 2300 web pages. Similarly, the average student spends 3 hours in class in a day and 3.5 hours online, and another 2 hours on a cellphone. Multitasking is now a way of life.

In a graduate classroom at any given time there are threaded conversations in living process, and the possibility of an expanded conversation. Rather than resisting that movement, instructors should build on it. Bottom Line. I learned more in the online interaction with my cohort than I did in the classroom. Future education must both acknowledge and capitalize on this new reality. In what ways? A student raises a question to which no one has a ready or clear answer. Assign immediate research: GOOGLE for data in the classroom. Someone else will have a friend who might have some thoughts. Get them on SKYPE or email the question. Ask for stories, not just data. Post on a popular forum like the OOZE and see what comes up. Expand the framework of the classroom to the web world. Work and learn the way we live.

* practice digital interaction and learning

Any instructor who isn't learning to exegete the culture is already time expired. Similarly, any instructor who doesn't know how to surf the web, who has never visited a blog site or listened to a podcast, who has never visited WIKIPEDIA, or who has never used a social networking tool is on the verge of obsolescence. It's a huge challenge for digital immigrants to keep up, but it is not an impossible task. It means unlearning and relearning some things, and it takes intentioned practice. But if we can't effectively enter the world of today's learners, we are going to be severely limited in our effectiveness in the rising culture. Be sure to watch the following video:

Media: A Vision of Students Today

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• © 2005-2007 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated in October, 2007