Practicing the disseminary: Technology lessons from Napster

Adam, A. (2002). Practicing the disseminary: Technology lessons from napster. Teaching Theology & Religion, 5(1):10–16. [url]


This paper describes how the success of Napster can be applied to theological education. The main point of the article is that should by no means perpetuate yesterday’s media in tomorrow’s environments.

The author reported a case study from diferent semesters of teaching where he used online discussions and materials to support the classroom work. He noticed interestingly that students that were shy during classroom discussions tended to post regularly online. Also he list interesting drawbacks of common technologies used in classroom teaching. Reserve materials are always printed as reading online is difficult and you cannot annotate the content easily. PowerPoint presentations are great but they may convey certainty to enduring problems and mysteries.

Most educators tend to react to new media imposing control. The author argues that a newway of thinking is required: the way of production and distribution of knowledge are now inexpensive. He proposes the concept of “Disseminary”, a common effort to put as much theological sutenance at the disposal of as many people as possible.

He proposes 5 lessons from Napster: 1) It is not the interface: we should put more effort in the production of content than on its presentation; 2) Free: this is the main value of the internet. Knowledge access shouldn’t have a cost; 3) No one gets awards from Napster, and no one would care if they did. The music is its own reward: it is more blessed to give than to receive; 4) Users who have downloaded large amounte of music tend to be better acquainted with more music; 5) Users who are enthousiastic about music they download will buy the CD and will especially go to the concert.

He notice that many educators fear that free distributions of online materials will diminish the appeal of on-campus education. However he highlights that theological education depends for some of its deepest formation on in-person interactions.

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