It's been a year since we first wrote about the "edupunk" phenomenon.
Edupunks are part of the up-and-coming generation of students. They think outside the educational boxes that institutions provide for them, finding sources of knowledge and authentic experience wherever they may.
While edupunks might still matriculate at an institution of higher learning, they are on the lookout for what they really want and need, wherever they can find it. (One university is experimenting with students like this and hosting "flash seminars," where a time and location for discussion on a hot topic is posted in online social networks, and only the first 25 students are allowed to participate.)
In the past year, we've also seen the rise of another term in higher education: "plug-and-play." This refers to an increasingly a la carte market approach to completing a degree. While a graduate student may be officially enrolled at one institution, that student can shop around -- usually online -- for classes at other schools -- courses that are more affordable, that address an unusual interest, or that accommodate a tight schedule. Then the student can plug these courses back into the degree program at the main institution via transfer credits. The U.S. government is moving quickly to ensure that educational institutions can easily accept transfer credits.
At the heart of this phenomenon is what some see as the de-centering of the student experience.
As we noted last year, the edupunk movement poses obvious threats to the residential/monastic model that many in theological education value as a necessary venue platform for formation. The question for many faculty and administrators will be how -- or whether -- formation for ministry can happen in a de-centered educational model. (This gets to the heart of the 1997 thesis of the ethnographic study Being There, which argued that students must "be there" at the seminary to get the full effect.)
While some see this phenomenon as a threat to theological schools, others interpret it as a shift of the center. It signals a move to a model in which theological education is organized not around the "sages on the stages" as the bearers of good news. Rather, in the new model, students become the center of theological education. Fully adult learners, students take more control over their professional and intellectual trajectories. They get what they want, when and how they want it, from the best teachers, most creative course formats, and most flexible degree programs.
Should leaders in theological education strive to retain the residential model's primacy? Or should they work hard to plug into the paradigm shift in higher education? It's essential that boards become aware of the shifting context of theological education, since the future of theological education seems to be at stake.