At last, something Mark and I can agree whole-heartedly about! In his most recent post on the topic of textbooks and digital media, Mark notes the phenomenon of standard-issue textbooks that come with a website! Ooooh! A few yeas ago, it was textbooks with a CD-ROM (usually for PCs only, because who wants a Mac?)!
Mark notes that commendable as it is that these frontline textbooks have useful web supplements, they’re still monophonically oriented toward the single author of the textbook (which is not to say that only the author contributes to devising these sites — it’s my understanding that at least some the web content on these sites may be developed by others, working under contract). Mark responds with a call to action: “This is where the digital pioneers come in. Because we have at least some understanding of how the internet works, and what its potential is, we are in a position to do the kind of thing that these traditional textbooks, with their limited companion websites, are aspiring to do.” Mark and Tim and I see and do different things — it’s a big Web out there, folks, and digital media entail a range of affordances that we won’t begin to understand till we’ve lived with them many more years (although having read Philip Dick novels decades ago was a great boost) — and our interests are, by and large complementary.
Here’s the big problem, though: although the Web is capacious, and our ends are complementary, the institutional support for those ends is meagre and schools and granting agencies will tend to regard their interest in our visions and work as rivalrous. One reason I tend to push back against Mark’s excellent, generous work is that it tends to look less threatening to a non-digital viewer. “Oh, it’s like an index or a table of contents! I don’t have to know my way around, I can just follow these links!” (That’s not a knock against Mark, by the way; making things easier for those not ready for solid food is a laudable New Testament tradition.) Some of the things I’ve pressed harder for seem impossible or dangerous (or both) to the homeostatic interests of the publishing-academic complex, so I tend to feel protective of ideas whose time seems not yet to have come (or whose time is banging on the door with a battering ram, only to be barricaded out by the impulses of institutional self-preservation).
So anyway, cheers to Mark and Tim and Brooke, and James and everyone in the party. Maybe (ahem) now that there’s demonstrable international interest from colleagues of the highest standing, someone (ahem) could fund a summit meeting and even coordinate support efforts. Doesn’t the sound of “The Duke Divintiy School Digital Curriculum” sound grand (and Duke has an established, distinguished university press with whom to collaborate). Or “The Princeton Seminary Free Online Library,” which reminds me that we ought to get some librarians onboard for this. “The Lilly Theological Education blah blah blah” or “The Pew Digital Academy” or (think big) “The MacArthur Digital Seminary” or “Ford” or who- or whatever, don’t those sound good? It would be a drop in the bucket compared to some of the programs that get funded, and with support for the dangerous, threatening kind of disruptive change, would transform theological education especially outside the already-over-resourced countries.
Once again — let’s push things forward.