Archive for June, 2009

Rethinking Christian Higher Education : The revolution in content delivery

The newspaper industry is in decline.  Journalists are a smart lot and many have seen this decline since the advent of the internet.

The following are quotes from here which I found in the comments section of this post at Kamp Krusty.

Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven’t been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply looking out the window and noticing that the real world was increasingly resembling the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors.

When reality is labelled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of their most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away….

Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.

The competition-deflecting effects of printing cost got destroyed by the internet, where everyone pays for the infrastructure, and then everyone gets to use it. And when Wal-Mart, and the local Maytag dealer, and the law firm hiring a secretary, and that kid down the block selling his bike, were all able to use that infrastructure to get out of their old relationship with the publisher, they did. They’d never really signed up to fund the Baghdad bureau anyway.

Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone — covering every angle of a huge story — to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

As the traditional bible college movement moves in to decline some of the deeper questions need to put on the table.  The truth is the church doesn’t need bible colleges, what we need is Christian education.  When we shift our attention from “save our colleges” to “save Christian education”, the imperative changes from ‘preserve our institution’ to ‘do what works well.’  What works today isn’t the same as what used to work. 

It might be fair to question whether the colleges and seminaries are in the same dire straits the newspaper industry finds itself in.  There are similarities.  Both are in the business of content delivery, content that used to be expensive to acquire.  Now the storage and delivery of text, audio and video is essentially free. 

Reclaiming the Mind Ministries is taking full advantage of this with their Theology Program.  They offer online courses, online video and DVD based courses with workbooks.  Local churches or other groups can take the courses together replicating some of the community the college offers.  While people may not get the full experience a college offers some aspects could be an improvement.  Why learn from the local guy when you could learn directly from the best teachers or the most knowledgeable teachers in a specific field?  The model RMM is pioneering is inexpensive and very accessible.  People can watch content again and again.  People aren’t uprooted from their church or community.  If the local church partnered with ministries like this one they could open up quality Christian education to a lot of people that would otherwise pass.

The Theology Program offers live weekly online meetings with teachers and students from all over the work, certificates to contribute toward a diploma, an online class environment and contract grading all for $100 a course, not $100 per credit hour, $100 per course.  Anyone can watch the classroom sessions for free.  I’d give the program a more wholehearted endorsement if it wasn’t so strongly reformed.  

I like the model TTP employs but after watching the videos it does seem they haven’t done much more than take a classroom and put it in a video.  It is somewhat reminiscent of the early days of television which were much more like radio with pictures.  They are just beginning to scratch the surface of the advantages of education delivered digitally.

The delivery of information and education is going through a revolution.  In the midst of a revolution the future is difficult to see.  Often it is a period of chaos and experimentation until certain movements, mediums and technologies establish themselves as the front runners and set the new standard.

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