Semper reformans, semper reformanda

Posted Nov 04, 2011 | New Media Project

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By John B. Weaver, guest blogger


The sixteenth-century Reformation in Christianity was significantly related to an epochal shift in communication technology, so we might do well to ask: when it comes to the change from analogue to digital media, what are the similarities and differences between the reading and teaching of theological texts, especially the Bible? And what are the implications of these similarities and differences for religious and theological education?

My recent research on digital textuality has attempted to address these questions in an initial way by focusing on the perceptions and practices among users of scholarly Bible software programs, particularly Accordance Bible and BibleWorks. The findings vary by specific question and software, but the majority of digital Bible readers report that digital texts are significantly changing their practices of reading, interpreting, and teaching the biblical text. Even more remarkably, about half of these digital Bible readers report at least some change in their understanding of both the nature of the biblical text and how they think the Bible should be taught in churches and seminaries.

When asked how churches and seminaries should change, readers of digital Bibles most often identify three needs: the adoption of digital texts in the classroom, articulation of best learning practices, and development of pedagogies that leverage the social, customized, media-rich, and increasingly mobile nature of the digital text/book.

At the school where I work, Abilene Christian University (ACU), the impact of digital technologies and texts is evident in a myriad of shared perceptions, plans, and programs, including a new theological publishing project that will be the topic of an upcoming blog post. Among the most visible impacts on the campus is the new AT&T Learning Studio, which has re-formed my working environment by reorganizing the top floor of the ACU Library with new spaces, resources, and services that support student participation in the exploratory production of learning and research objects that are increasingly digital, social, and customized.

The ACU Learning Studio is reforming teaching practice and reemphasizing the importance of our students’ social learning, along the lines of an apprenticeship as described by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Cambridge, 1991). From interpretation and creation of digital texts to the recording and capture of images, video, and audio tutorials for students by students to the group performance and digital recording/editing of student speeches and faculty lectures, including their PowerPoint presentations, the Learning Studio at ACU is inverting the position that academic technologies have traditionally held in relationship to students’ learning needs and creative ability. Through faculty mentorship and coaching, students are increasingly apprentices in the development of digital content for teaching, research, and publication at ACU. This is partly because students are decreasingly objects of a central pedagogue’s teaching and are increasingly participants in a community of academic and scholarly practice.

In line with this potential for digital Bibles and digital centers to reform theological and university education, Clayton Christenson has highlighted the multiple ways that emerging digital technologies are “disrupting” the broader identity, reputation, and profitability of educational institutions, from pre-school through graduate school. In Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation will Change the Way the World Learns (McGraw-Hill, 2010), Christenson argues that low-cost, ubiquitous, and student-centric technologies will transform many teachers and schools into facilitators and coaches of students (and parents!) who create and utilize online tutorials that are highly customized to the learning needs of individual learners. Similarly, in The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out (Jossey-Bass, 2011), Christenson spotlights the disruptive and transformative combination of peer instruction, mobile technology, and online learning in innovative schools like BYU-Idaho.

In the case of BYU-Idaho, particularly its Pathways Program, the educational goals of the church and the university are coordinated in programs that invite church leaders to host and mentor cohorts of undergraduates taking online courses, so that the disruptive and reforming opportunity of digital technologies is shared by church and university in collaborative service.

John B. Weaver
Dr. John B. Weaver is the Dean of Library Services and Educational Technology at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. Abilene Christian University is one of the case studies for the New Media Project.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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