Monday, January 28, 2008


I've had several "aha! moments" lately, the most recent about my conversation partners' theological epistemology (a term favoured by Steve Sherman in his Revitalizing Theological Epistemology, a review copy of which I've just received from the good folks at Pickwick/Wipf & Stock). In the last chapter of God, the Mind's Desire, Paul Janz, following Bonhoeffer's designations, rightly points out that the issue for theologians thinking about the relationship between knowing God and knowing generally is what to make of the line between penultimacy and ultimacy. In my terms--if there is a door between the realm of knowing (about) God through human reason and knowing God by grace alone, is its purpose to keep people out or invite people in? I know what I would answer, based on Jesus' claim, "I am the door."
Ronald Thiemann in Revelation and Theology is critical of Torrance's foundationalist epistemology, claiming that its dependence on revelation defined as God-given, immediate, intuitive knowledge of God undermines his efforts to make theology a scientific pursuit. I think he has made some unwarranted assumptions and thus misunderstood Torrance, but he is basically right on some important scores. Torrance does seem to be inconsistent, read in a modernist framework that takes as its credo "knowledge = justified true belief." What Thiemann's criticism made me realize, though, is that Torrance nowhere grants that; he approaches knowledge of God/knowledge generally in a completely different way--and it dawned on me yesterday that the way he sees the relationship is analogical. More on that later--time to head off to work.


OK, that should have been "us Christians" in the last lines of the earlier posting. I got thinking later, "I meant that generally, but what if it comes across as critical of particular Christians?" Then I had to admit that my responsibility is for this particular Christian, and I am guilty of trying to hold on to what is "mine" and not share openly. I have invested a great deal in this PhD project and have been fearful of having my idea "stolen" by some other needy student. That's ridiculous, of course--who in his right mind would try to bring into conversation a Roman Catholic and a Reformed theologian, both heavily influenced by modern modes of thought, in order to explore something as postmodern as learning design changes (pedagogy or andragogy, or whatever the term ought to be) influenced by the Internet's impact on how people learn?
Anyway, as a late New Year's resolution or an early Lent commitment to better things, I'm going to try to post more often and be more forthcoming (though I can't promise to be more clear!) about my project.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Changes in education

At long last, I'm getting around to interacting with these comments from Tim Bulkeley at SansBlogue on a post by Nichthus (whoever that may be) at E-BCNZer on the impact of Web 2.0 on education. (It seems Tim and I (and Nichthus) have a lot of similar interests. Tim blogs today on metaphor, and that's what I've spent a week researching. I tried Zotero earlier and decided to drop it, but on his recommendation I think I'll look at it again, since it seems much better now than it was.)
So, to Tim's comments: Agreed "that students themselves are not crying out for a change of approach" but "that students who are aware of other possibilities" may not be as "happy with the current tertiary pedagogies." My last classroom experience a couple years ago taught me that I shouldn't assume that internet-savvy students will demand--or even be ready for--anything beyond "listen-to-PowerPoint-enhanced-lectures-and-write-papers." I do think that times/learners are changing quickly, and there may be even now more acceptance, and expectation, for the affordances of Web 2.0 (or whatever we choose to call it). To be fair, one of the big hurdles in that class was the immature technology. Funny--it seems every online offering starts out with challenges because of bugs in the technology. Maybe that should be the topic of my next post.
Back to Tim, though--in response to the claim of Nichthus that "at best, the pervasiveness of Web 2.0 draws fresh attention to old theories and provides additional possibilities for their use," he points to two important elements: 1. the internet makes "communication at a distance fast, easy and cheap," 2. the move to open learning means that, increasingly, "'information content' is no longer a valuable commodity which the teacher or their institution controls"; now, what "the teacher has to offer that is of great value is the wisdom to make sense of and use the information well." He sums up with the hope that current technology will facilitate a move toward "participatory and exploratory, and more student centred" learning.
First, one caution: as I'm sure Tim is aware, the internet's role in making learning"cheap" means one thing to learners but is largely misunderstood re: development in online education. It's not at all the cash cow that some administrators still seem to think it is. There are many things to consider in regard to cost, including the development $ required in hardware/software tools and in salaries for development teams, not to mention the added demands on SMEs' and instructors' time. That said, though, open tools that are set up to allow for rapid development are beginning to appear (but, not yet at least, eliminating the need for designers), and their affordances will have a lot to do with making development cheaper, easier, quicker.
Then, another couple of amens: hurrah for open learning initiatives, and yes, "participatory, exploratory, and student centred" are all generally good in terms of the direction in which education is being transformed.
I would add, though, that Christian educators need to look theologically and not just pragmatically at what Web 2.0 adds to (and how it changes) learning. So, for example, in theological terms, learning-as-participation is much richer than learning-as-acquisition, but it won't be easy displacing the notion of knowledge as a commodity & all that it implies. Think just of what it will take to move (Christian) educators--teachers and administrators--away from the mindset that scholarship is not the ladder for promotion & tenure but a gift to be shared openly. Would it be counter-productive to say shame on Christians for hanging back & holding on to resources when those who do not profess to follow Jesus are leading the way in making their resources freely available?