Learning Journey 3 – The New Media Consortium Conference at MIT, June 12-14

By Jay Emerson Johnson, Faculty Lecturer in Theology and Culture

What if this picture were the future of all PSR/GTU classrooms? Get rid of the desks; replace them with round tables, all “smart.” What if we issued an iPad or tablet to all students?

Dream it and start doing it and funding will follow when combined with an iterative vision of collaborative theological learning undertaken with a dozen or more community and corporate partners committed to social change.

This conference offered a constant fire-hose stream of material to digest about the seismic shifts for education (and religion!) in a thoroughly visual, multimedia society. I have a lot more digesting to do! The good news: I believe those seismic shifts resonate remarkably well with the kind of “progressive” Christianity PSR has been struggling to articulate for some years now; none of this sounded “foreign” to me. The challenging news: if embraced, those seismic shifts would mean profound changes in how PSR lives and works.

One continual thread at this conference, for example, was this: learning would be rooted in social problem solving, cultural innovation, and critical thinking skills for leadership, not in information. And all of it would be done collaboratively and without traditional disciplinary boundaries. “Divinity” studies divvied up into subject area silos is an 18th and 19th century relic and just doesn’t make sense anymore.

Information is no longer the end product of learning. Everyone already has access to it (think Google and Wikipedia). What people need, and what PSR can provide, is critical thinking, resource vetting, and vision for the skills now needed to lead progressive faith communities. These skills are taught by actually practicing them on campus, not least by modeling in every classroom creative problem-solving and vision-inspiration exercises. Passion and vision cannot be taught, one presenter said; they can only be inspired.

I would call this “Christianity 3.0: Transformative Faith for a Third Millennium.” At its core would be creative, innovative, constantly iterative forms of deeply connected communities of socially transformative spiritual practice. A mouthful!

A key take-away for me was how technology is changing the world, our society, our cultural sensibilities, how people think, what people expect, and what therefore seminaries and theological education need to address in order to be effective. This is not only about “pedagogical strategies” but also what the school is actually aiming to do, how we go about figuring out what (who?) we’re trying to serve.

The changes in the world drive us toward something much bigger than just adding fancy technology to enhance online classes.  It’s not really about the “how” of theological education; it’s about the “what.” What are we really doing? Given the reality of the global culture (indelibly marked now as a visual, multimedia culture and the implications of that for how human beings interact with the world and form communities), what are we doing? For that matter, what are churches doing? Couldn’t (shouldn’t?) PSR position itself as a leader to help faith communities figure out that question?

See Jay’s blog post “Salvation Aims Too Low” at peculiarfaith.com and his presentation on the conference (Materials: Narrated PPT [pw: psr1798]; New Media salon power point 6-20-12).

(In the spirit of this new and evolving multimedia culture, the New Media Consortium has made all of its summer conference content available and FREE! If you want a good taste of the event, go to this URL and click on #7, the keynote plenary address by the director of the MIT Media Lab: http://itunes.apple.com/itunes-u/nmc-summer-conference-2012/id533497792?mt=2).

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