Dr. J. Wesley Baker has taught communication at Cedarville College for 18 years. His teaching and research interests focus on the electronic media with an emphasis on new technologies, including communication in the information age, issues and ethics in electronic media, and mass media low and regulation. Baker and his wife, Rebecca, have four children.
We as educators are caught in a swirl of change. The computers on our desk tops which have been used for word processing are being plugged into an international telecommunication network, linking us to millions of others around the world as thousands more are connected each day.
Our screens, which used to glow with amber print as research reports and lecture notes were written, now display color photos, graphics, and full-motion video. Speakers have been added to provide sound. Our computers have changed from glorified typewriters to the means for collection, compilation, and dissemination of our research and for communication with our colleagues. In the midst of this change, an inevitable question is "What are the effects of these new technologies on scholarship?" For us as Christians in higher education a related question is, "What are the implications of the use of these technologies for Christian professors?"
Before beginning a discussion of these questions, some definitions are in order. First, by "new technologies" I am referring to the technologies made possible by the merging of computers and telecommunication technologies. Specifically, I am thinking of the technology to which we most commonly have access as college faculty: multimedia-enabled computers connected to an international telecommunication network (for most of us, the Internet or some commercial service such as CompuServe or America OnLine which provides a gateway to parts of the Internet).
Second, by "scholarship" I mean more than the publication of original research in peer-reviewed journals. The narrowing of scholarship to that single product has been the source of frustration to those of us teaching at comprehensive undergraduate institutions and the subject of an on-going debate recently. In talking about a broader meaning of "scholarship" I will follow the lead of Dr. Ernest Boyer, who argues for a reconceptualization of scholarship to include four dimensions. Surely, scholarship means engaging in original research. But the work of the scholar also means stepping back from one's investigation, looking for connections, building bridges between theory and practice, and communicating one's knowledge effectively to students. Specifically, we conclude that the work of the professoriate might be thought of as having four separate, yet overlapping, functions. These are: the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching.
Let me briefly discuss what Boyer means by each of these functions and suggest how each is effected by the new technologies.
This aspect of scholarship relates most closely to original research intended to make a contribution to the body of knowledge in one's discipline. Computers have made a tremendous change in how original research is conducted and what can be researched. Their speed of computation allow researchers to investigate questions which would have been impossible without these tools.
Once hooked to a telecommunication network, it is possible for the computer to gather data at a distant site and make it available to anyone else on the network. An example of this is the Upper Atmospheric Research Collaboratory (UARC) which uses "electronic networks so that investigators around the globe can witness the results of an experiment as it progresses." In addition to real-time transmission of data by such a "collaboratory," the results can be archived on a server attached to the network, allowing others to obtain the original data for replication or re-analysis. As a result, faculty and students from any college or university can have access to primary research data formerly available only to faculty and graduate students at research universities. This capability increases the opportunity for all to engage in the scholarship of discovery.
By "application" Boyer means the use of our knowledge of our discipline in service to society and the insight this practical application provides for our understanding of the discipline. While producing a benefit to society, application also provides a kind of feedback loop to our scholarly activity--case studies from the field which continually call for a refining of our inquiry. It is a break from the "Ivory Tower."
At this point the new technologies appear to have little relevance to this function of scholarship. However, if the notion of "society" includes (to use the jargon of the day) the virtual communities of cyberspace, then it can be seen that these technologies may have tremendous utility in increasing the connection between scholars and society. Roszak expresses the hope that these communities "might be a means of building communities of citizenly concern. The result would be an expanding forum of opinion and debate." Hints of that can be seen already on some of the special interest newsgroups of Usenet where professionals and amateurs exchange messages on the group's topic. If the vision of the 500-channel "Information Superhighway" becomes a reality, electronic communities may become the new public commons.
One use of these technologies in teaching is for lecture support: A computer capable of bringing up graphics, photo, animations, video and sound can display these resources to illustrate lecture points. But there is an even greater potential impact on our teaching. Many of those who promote the use of these new technologies for teaching argue that the media will change the nature of teaching and learning, that the teacher will move to a mentor role as the student becomes an active learner. In this model, learning is indeed the primary focus of activity in the classroom. At times the teacher may be almost invisible . . . . However, the teacher's support, guidance, encouragement, and judgment, informed by understanding of the individual student and a generalist's vision of the coherence of knowledge, is the sine qua non of the educational enterprise.
Students now have access to material as never before. By accessing high resolution images on the Internet, students can examine a page of a rare manuscript in greater detail than they could looking at it in a museum. Archives of research data are available for students to download and use in science studies. Full texts of government documents--regulatory agency rulings, Supreme Court opinions and Congressional legislation-are now available on-line. Hundreds of libraries have On-Line Public Access Catalogs (OPACs) which can be searched from one's office or dorm room. All of this new access to information portends changes in the way we teach and in what we can expect our students to be able to learn for themselves.
The scholarship of integration calls attention to "the need for scholars who give meaning to isolated facts, putting them in perspective. By integration, we mean making connections across the disciplines, placing the specialties in larger context, illuminating data in a revealing way, often educating nonspecialists, too." This is certainly not a new theme. In 1945 President Roosevelt's Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Vannevar Bush, raised concerns about the post-war trend toward specialization which was already developing.
"The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers-conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial."
Christian scholar Jacques Ellul argues that the problem of the overwhelming crush of "over-documentation" cannot be solved "by greater specialization. Because now we have realized that in order to be good in a very small field one needs an enormous amount of knowledge from other areas." Boyer would agree and highlights three requirements for the scholarship of integration when he writes, "Today, more than at any time in recent memory, researchers feel the need to move beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries, communicate with colleagues in other fields, and discover patterns that connect."
The first two requirements--moving beyond disciplinary boundaries and communicating with colleagues in other fields--are closely related, since the cross-disciplinary dialogue assists us in gaining a broader perspective. A recent article in Scientific American describes how networked computers are changing the research process within a scientific discipline. In this view, software running on geographically dispersed computers will be able to link together an entire research corpus, from electronic mail notification of first results to the actual peer-reviewed article to any commentary that follows. As this phenomenon emerges, the definition of scientific collaboration may change. Commentators on articles virtually become members of research teams. The network even opens the possibility of broader participation in experimental activity itself. Investigators from throughout a discipline can witness an experiment as it takes place--and register their comments for future perusal by other workers.
There is nothing in this approach which limits the contributions to those within a discipline, however. The research team could be made up of scholars across several fields scattered around the world, helping all involved to broaden their understanding of the subject under investigation as they engage with fellow researchers who have entirely different perspectives.
The new technologies can assist us with the third requirement-- discovering "patterns that connect--as well. Interestingly, Bush's proposed solution, a machine which he called the "memex", is a prototype of today's multimedia-enabled computer equipped with hypermedia software. Bush envisioned the machine assisting a scholar in his research, allowing him to annotate all the information available, regardless of the source, so that it could be interconnected, allowing the researcher to follow a trail with easy jumps from one piece of related information to another. Work is continuing to make Bush's vision a practical reality.
Attempts are being made to systematize the information available or to create "intelligent" tools--called agents--to search through the flood of information based on our interests. This past September grants were awarded for a "digital library initiative." Among the recipients was the Dean of the School of Information and Library Studies at the University of Michigan, Daniel E. Atkins, who is working on "the development of technology to help students and scholars wade through the limitless store of information available on the earth and space sciences." With these capabilities, the technology can assist us as we seek to integrate knowledge from our discipline with perspectives gained from diverse sources.
Given the dynamics of the changes described, what are the implications for us as Christian professors? There are many, but let me focus on a few related to the scholarship of integration. One aspect of the scholarship of integration mentioned earlier is the need for communication between faculty across disciplines. Several writers have noted the difficulty for faculty of different disciplines to be able to establish a common ground for such dialogue.
As Christian scholars, however, we share common presuppositions which should help bridge the gap between disciplines. Indeed, Walsh and Middleton, noting that "integrated knowing requires a commonality of world view," argue that "Christian academic studies must be self- consciously interdisciplinary." They propose that Christians of all majors on a college campus form a discussion group for this purpose. By using the expanding electronic network allows we can extend the discussion group beyond a single campus.
If academia is truly seeking to see some models of cross-disciplinary work, we should take advantage of the opportunity and jump into the gap, utilizing our network access to establish connections. A related aspect of integration is the opportunity afforded by the new technologies for collaboration between Christian scholars from religious and non- religious institutions. This could be mutually advantageous: an encouragement for Christian faculty who are the sole believers in their departments and a challenge for the faculty member at a Christian college working with someone who is actively having to defend his approach to the discipline.
The Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities maintains a listing of faculty, arranged by research interest, from the Coalition schools who are on the Internet in an attempt to encourage such electronic collegiality. Such a list could be expanded to include believers who are from colleges and universities which are not religious or church-related. The beginnings of such a list may already be in place through the work of the Institute for Christian Leadership, which has established a telecommunication service named ICLnet. Christian Leadership Ministries (CLM), the organization which publishes The Real Issue, is using ICLnet as an electronic link between its field staff and the more than 11,000 faculty members who receive its publications. In the ICL's journal Faculty Dialogue, editor Richard Cavnes Neese reports that "CLM proposes to expand its use of the ICLnet bulletin board service (BBS) to post news and support forums addressing a variety of philosophical and technical topics related to staff support, ministry, and computer and software use." The list Neese provides of the schools represented by registered users of ICLnet has impressive breadth.
A third point related to the scholarship of integration adds a uniquely Christian perspective to the term. Among many of the religious colleges and universities, the concept of integration includes the integration of faith and learning, that is, the desire to specifically relate the presuppositions of a Christian world and life view to the understanding and study of one's discipline. Many faculty within departments at these schools work on "white papers" for internal use but few of these find wider circulation and the opportunities for conversations with fellow faculty at other schools engaged in the same inquiry often seem rare. Using a server connected to the Internet, it would be possible to establish an electronic archive for such papers, just as the ICLnet serves as "a repository for several ongoing organizational documents which are available to the Christian community" and "a large and growing collection of classical Christian texts (ICLnet features a significant collection of the early Church Father's writings)." Such a collection could help all of us as we seek to apply Biblical truth in our scholarly activities.
A final implication to which I would like to call attention is our imperative to oppose the secular tendency toward idolatry of technologies and to work to ensure that these technologies be put to redemptive uses as that is possible. While Fore has observed that most Christian responses to technology have been rejection or accommodation, Ellul argues for the need to find some middle ground. "What we have eventually to do as Christians," he writes, "is certainly not to reject technology, but rather, in the technological society and at the price of whatever controversy, we have to cause hope to be born again, and to redeem the time in relation to the times."
Our knowledge of God and His purpose for creation allows us to have a "realistic" perspective from outside the world's system. Because of this knowledge, we recognize the tendency of fallen humankind to promote technology in the Babel-like hope that our creations will allow us to declare independence from God.
We must oppose such utopian promotion of the technologies. However, while that external perspective often causes us to be cautious, it also allows us to accept "the potential offered by the responsible development of technology." Some of the uses described here reveal the opportunities for broader access to information and increased communication with colleagues. We should encourage such empowering and dialogic uses of the technology.
As "Christian realists" we can encourage appropriate uses of the new technologies while insisting on a recognition of the limits of what technologies alone can or ought to do. Above all, we can maintain a witness of hope to a world doomed to disappointment if it seeks redemption in the technologies of its own creation.