The other day, my colleague Rebekah Burch Basinger taught me a new word: edupunk. Ever since, I've been wondering if (and how) edupunks will transform theological education.
By far the best exploration of this movement comes from a recent feature story in Fast Company magazine. Called "How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education," the article explains how some technologically astute people are taking a do-it-yourself attitude toward higher education, relying on free content provided by universities to craft their own educational programs.
The "punk" part of edupunk is a reference to punk rock music -- and especially its rebellion against convention. Punk rejects the norms of conventional musical training -- that if you practice, practice, practice, you'll eventually get to Carnegie Hall. Punks aren't interested in Carnegie Hall, and they don't care if you (or I) approve of their music.
Similarly, edupunks don't care about your (or my) fancy degrees. They are, however, interested in knowledge, and they know (for example) that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology puts course material online for free. Edupunks are willing to craft their own programs using lectures, PowerPoint presentations, and reading materials that they find at the MIT Web site and on multiple other sites across the Internet. Just as punk music has a raw, unprofessional feel to it, so the edupunk philosophy embraces an on-the-fly feel -- an educational program that's cobbled together and made up while it's happening.
To me, this seems both terrifying and exciting. On the one hand, I'm grateful for my degrees and for the genuine learning that they represent. On the other hand, I admire the entrepreneurial spirit of these innovators.
There's an obvious question -- who is paying for all this marvelous online content? Right now, institutions are giving their knowledge away by putting it online. Perhaps this giveaway is a truly sustainable business model. For example, when MIT puts its courses online, perhaps the perceived value of an MIT degree increases, and more students will apply in order to be resident at such an innovative institution. On the other hand, if the edupunk philosophy of education expands, perhaps schools will no longer be able to afford this kind of giveaway.
I think it's important for theological school administrators and boards to be aware of this movement. Because even if your school is committed to the classical model of residential higher education, some of your future students may not be.
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