Last week, I began a series of four posts on The University Today, adapted from an address last summer at the World Assembly of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. I focused on four change forces (internationalization, technology, economics, and secularization) at work in the university world and considering their implications for collegiate ministries working in the university. I’m struck as I write this that these trends do not have implications for Christians in the university alone. They profoundly shape the character of our institutions.
Nowhere is this more true than in the rapidly changing world of technology which is shaping what is being taught, how it is being taught, and how students learn. Most significantly, technology is shaping, wittingly or unwittingly, the very sense of what a university is for. Here is the excerpt of the address on technology, followed by questions for reflection:
The explosion of technology is shaping what is taught and funded at many of our institutions. Pressures from parents, students, governments, and businesses are compelling changes in how higher education’s ends are being conceived. Academic degrees in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) are being emphasized while programs in the humanities, languages, the arts, and social sciences are struggling to secure funding, enrollments, and to reconceive their role as an adjunct to STEM. In many settings, education is being treated as a commodity rather than a formative experience and engagement with life’s big questions. Students are the customers, faculty and university staff the vendors, and productivity is measured in terms of job placement rates. As I’ve already observed, the decision of many governments to subsidize international study reflects the fact that STEM enjoys an international consensus.
Technology is also shaping the way we learn, and the way education is delivered. A student may now access on a smartphone information that might have taken hours to find in a university library. Increasingly, the classroom is not the location of lectures but a place to discuss and apply content viewed online and to collaborate in learning with other students, a shift being referred to as the “flipped” classroom. Increasingly educators are required to display expertise not merely in their academic discipline but also in the use of various online technologies and social media. We have also seen a vast increase in online courses as either an alternative to or adjunct to education on a physical campus. Technology also means instant communication of everything from revolutions to complaints about the campus administration. One university leader I know utilizes social media constantly not only to promote the accomplishments of his institution but also to maintain contact with current and prospective students, and other constituents of the university.
- How might Christians contribute to the discussion of education’s purpose in the institutions where they work? What are the opportunities for our mission if the spiritual hunger and aspirations of students are not acknowledged and the “big questions” are not explored in their education?
- How should the transformation in the delivery of education influence our ministry approaches on campus? What will it mean for us to incarnate the gospel in an increasingly virtual world?