The Campus (Ministry) Tsunami

David Brooks writes in his piece, The Campus Tsunami, “What happened to the newspaper and magazine business is about to happen to higher education: a rescrambling around the Web.”

Brooks mentions many of the doubts people have about the usefulness of online learning: decreased academic standards, celebrity professors putting everyone else out of a job, contact being lost as students sit in front of a computer more and more.  Yet there are positives: online learning gives more people access to the best professors, online learning could increase influence of American universities worldwide and research shows online learning is about as effective as classroom.

Brooks goes on to say:

The most important and paradoxical fact shaping the future of online learning is this: A brain is not a computer. We are not blank hard drives waiting to be filled with data. People learn from people they love and remember the things that arouse emotion. If you think about how learning actually happens, you can discern many different processes. There is absorbing information. There is reflecting upon information as you reread it and think about it. There is scrambling information as you test it in discussion or try to mesh it with contradictory information. Finally there is synthesis, as you try to organize what you have learned into an argument or a paper.

Online education mostly helps students with Step 1. As Richard A. DeMillo of Georgia Tech has argued, it turns transmitting knowledge into a commodity that is cheap and globally available. But it also compels colleges to focus on the rest of the learning process, which is where the real value lies. In an online world, colleges have to think hard about how they are going to take communication, which comes over the Web, and turn it into learning, which is a complex social and emotional process.

In other words, the colleges that adapt the best will be the most successful in the new atmosphere.

With the changes happening on campus it is clear that the atmosphere of college ministry is changing too.  Steve Lutz talks at length about this in his fantastic book, College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture.

One theme of his book is that campus ministries are competing over a shrinking group of students.  A large number of students who naturally seek out involvement in campus ministry are already Christians.  These students who are already Christians are the ones most campus ministries are geared towards.  As Lutz says, “Many of the groups are growing by becoming more efficient at attracting students from the increasingly smaller pockets of Christendom” (Kindle Location 455-456)

Lutz’ call is for campus ministry to become missional.  He describes this in various places, saying things such as:

As God’s gospel-transformed and sent people, we orient everything we do to God’s mission, which is to reconcile and restore God’s fallen creation to himself through his son Jesus Christ. This is what we mean by “missional.” This reclaiming of our identity changes everything”  Kindle Location 466-468)

Campuses are changing.  Those of us who work in campus ministry have a big job to adapt so as to best reach out to the students coming to campus this fall and beyond.

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