Teaching the Net Generation

October 20, 2007 | 79 comments
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It’s easy to forget how much time LDS teenagers spend in LDS classrooms, roughly seven hours per week. Are they learning anything? That’s a fair question, as the “classroom model” that governs teaching hasn’t changed much over the years, but students have.

Schools deal with the same challenge. Here’s a quote from Educating the Net Generation: How to Engage Students in the 21st Century, by a California high school teacher, talking about how the dated technology and approach of public schools is way behind the curve.

Not only are the curriculum and content in question, but the process by which the Net Generation is educated is also suspect. Because the Net Generation has been shaped by an environment that is information and communication rich, team-based, achievement-oriented, visually based, and instantly responsive, they often recoil from isolated, lecture-based, information-dated, responsive-deficient silos of learning comprised of outdated technologies from the mid-20th century.

The problem, as discussed at length in the book, is that students, even or especially bright ones, are often bored in school and tend to disengage with the help of their iPod, cell phone, or laptop. Small LDS classes might prevent that from happening too often in the LDS class setting, but there is still the challenge of keeping the Net Youth of Zion engaged while in the classroom. So how do we make LDS classrooms more information and communication rich, visually based and instantly responsive, rather than isolated, lecture-based, and responsive-deficient?

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79 Responses to Teaching the Net Generation

  1. Jettboy on October 20, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    And yet, if you ask those same “Net Generation” students questions about history, art, math, science, and etc. then even the smart ones will know less than at least two generations ago. The smart ones are bored in school for two reasons. First, because school teaches to the lowest common denominator who don’t care no matter how low the school goes. Second, because the idea of discipline no longer exists. Even the “smart ones,” with few exception, are more likely to go online to play games and watch dumb youtube videos than go to an educational site.

    In other words; a good book, paper and pencil, and a chalkboard can be far better learning material than all the technology in the world. All the extra bells and whistles are nothing if the student doesn’t want to learn. Most students, even the “smart ones” don’t want to learn. And today’s educational system doesn’t want to teach academics (they would rather have them “feel good” about themselves by handing out grades like candy on Halloween). What education needs is more discipline and achievement based stimulus.

  2. angrymormonliberal on October 20, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    One answer, that ties into recent talk of innoculation is that you better darn well tell them the truth. This generation, my generation, has far more research skills than any previous generation. Forums, chats, Wikipedia, Sunstone and Dialouge are both online now. Now, we might draw the wrong conclusions from what we read, but the information is widely avaliable in multiple interpretations. Never underestimate the power of Google.

    Fudging LDS history may have worked nominally well for the last generation when the information was tied down in paper, centered in Utah and requiring a visit to the library. Now, with a few hours of motivated research you can find exactly what you want.

    Second, you’d better have your own ducks in a row. Because we’re surrounded with information, we know the power of friends. We trust our friends far more than you think. Most of us filter our information through our friends. We see what you do, and we see where you go and if your telling us one thing on sunday and doing the opposite during the week, we will see it and the information spreads faster than the gossip network in old mormon towns.

  3. queuno on October 20, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    I can’t agree more with #1 and #2. Because we’re surrounded with so much information, we tend to seek out the advise of “trusted” sources more than ever. An engaging teacher — who is direct, honest, informative, and knowledgeable — will become that trusted source.

    Our children are smart enough to know that a lot of “information” isn’t necessarily correct and rely on someone they trust to help them interpret it (not interpret it for them).

    I think in the last couple of years, I’ve become a bit more positive about my community’s schools. My daughter and oldest son have very different learning styles and interests and they have had wonderful teachers who inspire them to go find their own answers when the teacher can’t (and even more importantly, their teachers have been wise enough to admit when they don’t know).

    Technology can never replace a gifted teacher (which is why I still don’t put much stock in online degrees, but that’s a rant for another time).

    Although, angrymormonliberal, I think that our children’s generation is much more willing to compartmentalize and recognize the private hypocrisies of its teachers without it shaking their faith.

  4. Geoff J on October 20, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    Jettboy: And yet, if you ask those same “Net Generation” students questions about history, art, math, science, and etc. then even the smart ones will know less than at least two generations ago.

    What do you base this comment on?

    Dave: So how do we make LDS classrooms more information and communication rich

    I think most LDS Sunday school classes and seminary classes are communication rich. I taught early morning seminary for a couple of years and never once lectured through the class. It was always an interactive discussion. (It wasn’t very visually based unless you count my mad chalkboard art skillz.)

  5. queuno on October 20, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    Not only are the curriculum and content in question, but the process by which the Net Generation is educated is also suspect. Because the Net Generation has been shaped by an environment that is information and communication rich, team-based, achievement-oriented, visually based, and instantly responsive, they often recoil from isolated, lecture-based, information-dated, responsive-deficient silos of learning comprised of outdated technologies from the mid-20th century.

    The description above sounds like a generation of kids who were plunked in front of a TV instead of being handed a book.

    Like it or not, life is not always team-based, achievement-oriented, visually-based, and instantly-responsive. The ability to function as an individual in a text-oriented, delayed-response environment is sorely lacking amongst that generation. Woe be unto their parents for fostering the inability to read.

  6. Bruce V C on October 20, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    I concur with #1

    The “classroom model” that governs teaching hasn’t changed much over the years, but students have.

    I disagree. In fact, I think that line of thinking is completely backwards. I just graduated from high school last year. I started to write an insanely long comment, but it wasn’t very cohesive, so I’ll just chime in later when I’ve collected myself. For now, I refer to Slashdot, which had a really good discussion on this a few months ago, which I highly recommend browsing through. See this comment especially. Though the discussion focused mainly on university libraries, the idea is still the same. The technology is making things easier, but definitely not better.

  7. Julie M. Smith on October 20, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    The quote in the post strikes me as extremely suspect. Of all of the stupid trends in American education, the trends of technology-as-savior plus anything-traditional-is-evil are the worst. We’ll never out-Wii or out-iPod the Wii and the iPod and we shouldn’t try. We especially shouldn’t try at Church, where our efforts will look even sillier. (Although I once had a BoM game on my ancient Mac that had a “smite” button and I thought that was pretty cool, but I digress.)

    The one exception to that is visual aids. Flannel boards are extremely helpful in Primary. Some people (me included) pretty much can’t follow or think about a quotation unless we see it in front of us (i.e., handout) and sometimes handout charts, tables, diagrams, etc. can be helpful. I’ve never seen a Powerpoint that was better than not having it, however. And with anything, there is the risk that the teacher will spend too much time selecting a font and not enough pondering.

  8. m&m on October 20, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    I’ve never seen a Powerpoint that was better than not having it, however.

    I’d not like to see many of these kinds of things in Church classes…it’s too easy to rely on the medium rather than the Spirit, and good discussion.

  9. California Condor on October 20, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    The key to PowerPoint is to take a minimalist strategy. Limit your entire presentation to maybe three slides. Don’t put sentences or bullet points on your slides. For a good example, watch Apple CEO Steve Jobs give a presentation.

  10. Nitsav on October 20, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    “An engaging teacher — who is direct, honest, informative, and knowledgeable — will become that trusted source.”

    As a slight threadjack, one of the problems I perceive with current religious education is that many students don’t think those adjectives above apply to CES teachers. One of my students (I’m a volunteer Institute teacher, not professional) said to me, “I’m so glad to finally have a teacher without any charisma!… What I mean is, it seems most CES people get hired for being charismatic and likeable, and you’re not like that at all… You actually know stuff. I can ask you a history question, or a doctrine question, or a Bible question, and you actually know lots about it.”

    After inserting both feet in mouth, he expressed his opinion that most CES can’t be relied upon for being knowledgeable and informative or direct. This has been confirmed to me in subsequent conversations with other students.

    I do take my laptop to class, and occasionally use it with a projector for maps or geneaologies or quotations that I haven’t had time to print out.

  11. queuno on October 20, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    There was a trend a few years ago where universities were buying laptops for freshmen. I commented at the time to a friend that “freshmen should be seen and not heard and tethered to a private carrell, not sitting under a tree instant messenging friends, playing Quake, and pretending to study.”

    The time to get a child interested in learning and education is in the K-5 years, when they don’t have ipods and laptops and stuff like that. If you’re waiting until high school to “engage them”, you’re way too late.

    Not to say technology is evil. My daughter’s Gifted classes have done some interesting things, but it was already assumed they were at the top of their classes (taught with less technological bells and whistles).

    The single-most technology-infused class I had in grad school was a neural networks class. Our professor used two laptops and plenty of graphics to illustrate his points. Until, one day when the technology failed and he had to resort to chalk and an eraser. It was that day we all realized that ‘wow, this guy is good’ — not because of his command of technology, but because of his command of the theory and his ability to convey it in a commanding manner. If anything, the use of the technology to “illustrate” the concepts was hampering him.

  12. California Condor on October 20, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    A good start would be to hire educators that don’t use bloated buzzwords such as

    communication rich
    team-based
    achievement-oriented
    visually based
    instantly responsive
    and
    information-dated
    responsive-deficient silos of learning

  13. Dave on October 20, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Wow, new hot-button topic. I just want to make sure no one (see #7, #8) misunderstands the quote, which is saying that current students are used to and *want* an “information and communication rich, team-based, achievement-oriented, visually based, and instantly responsive” learning environment, not the opposite. I’m surprised so many people think the old rote-style teaching is preferable. This is the same group, after all, that plunks down hundreds of comments on open-thread Conference posts (surely a participatory, communication-rich, instant response way to experience Conference) rather than just sitting and listening quietly to the lecture-based presentations. Oh blogger, know thyself.

    The thought that sprung to my mind was … online seminary. Or even Second Life Seminary. Maybe that’s thinking too far outside the box.

  14. Julie M. Smith on October 20, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    Re #13:

    Ah, we’ve reached an even bigger problem with this educational philosophy: the belief that the *wants* of the student matter. Your conference thread analogy is funny, but show me the 5th graders or undergrads who are IMing about the content of the lecture and then you’ll have me convinced.

  15. James Francisco on October 20, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    I can speak to this as someone who teaches in the classroom and online. There is nothing that can replace human interaction and application in the learning process. All the technological bells and whistles in the world can replace a well-prepared real person taking the time to explain a bit of information to another. Note that I said well-prepared. The instructor or facilitator, whatever you want to call them, needs to know the material and care about it. They also need to have the ability of explaining things to others. Not all professional educators have that ability as a natural gift. It can be learned. Technology can help, but it is not essential. The keys to reaching youth or any other generation of learners are preparation in both the material and interpersonal communications skills, interest and passion for the material on the part of the instructor, and a relentless search for the way that the material under study can mean something to the student.

  16. Ray on October 20, 2007 at 9:23 pm

    I was going to respond, but James (#15) said precisely what I was going go say.

    All I will add is a quote I saw in the central office of a small district in PA almost ten years ago:

    “We must educate our children for their future, not for our past or present.”

  17. Julie M. Smith on October 20, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    “The keys to reaching youth or any other generation of learners are preparation in both the material and interpersonal communications skills, interest and passion for the material on the part of the instructor, and a relentless search for the way that the material under study can mean something to the student.”

    Amen and amen. And I don’t see technology in that sentence.

  18. MLU on October 20, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    Speaking as a public school teacher who uses quite a lot of technology in the classroom, I have to say that this post is mostly hokum.

    The information age is also the age of confusion.

    It can be quite difficult to find the meaning of life or a sound purpose for living amid the millions of pages of information on the internet, and it is in the realm of meaning that public schools are failing most dramatically. The technology is largely a distraction.

    The first American schools were dedicated to teaching children about God and his ways. Later schools aimed primarily at teaching about the nation and its ideals.

    Both those earlier purposes have been thoroughly debunked by modernist educators who believe they are quite profound in seeing that some of the facts don’t fit the myths earlier generations struggled to realize, as though it were brilliant and helpful to point out to Christ that in many ways Christian communities falls short of the myth of the Kingdom of Heaven.

    But the debunkers, mostly in the humanities, have not provided a new purpose that amounts to much, and they have, to an ironic extent, rendered themselves unimportant.

    So modern schools serve markets. The humanities are so weakened and confused as to be hardly worth preserving. Literature and history teachers mostly continue debunking the myths of religion and nationalism, as though there were any children left who have ever heard, at school, a good thing said about Columbus or a patriotic thing said about America.

    The educational promise of technology may be that it allows students to escape public schools, returning to the enchanted realms of education aimed at realities more nourishing than those pursued in the market state. A place where sexuality can be discussed intelligently, in the context of meanings that unite body and spirit. A place where love of family, love of nation, and love of the world can be harmonized into an eternal vision, without which we perish.

    I would hate to see LDS educators seduced into thinking they need to move away from a truth rich, prophetic, goodness oriented, meditative and scriptural teaching aimed at responding to the still small voice one hears in quiet moments, into the phony razzmatazz of an information and communication rich, team-based, achievement-oriented, visually based, and instantly responsive, silo of modernist silage. . .

  19. MLU on October 20, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    In the disenchanted realms of the market state, we are raising up more and more children who share the plight of the “urchin” Auden described in “The Shield of Achilles.”

    That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
    Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
    Of any world where promises were kept,
    Or one could weep because another wept.

    Hearing of those worlds of promises kept is, I think, the real challenge of education in the “information age” and I think if the LDS Church is not doing it as well as it could be done, it is nonetheless doing it wonderfully.

    Technology can help, but not primarily for the reasons listed in this post.

  20. Ray on October 20, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Julie, “a relentless search for the way that the material under study can mean something to the student” includes the proper use of technology. If technology can help a concept “come alive” to the student(s) – if it can provide a visualization for those who need such a visualization, then it can be an excellent tool in making the material mean something. The best example I have ever seen of this was a graphic presentation of the Pythagorean Theorem that helped students see what it actually means. I won’t try to describe it here, but it was phenomenal, particularly for students who just didn’t “get” formulas alone.

    Just to be clear, a book is technology; chalk and a chalkboard is technology; a pencil and eraser are technology – we just don’t see them as such since we have used them since our birth. Technology brought us common access to the Bible and sparked the Reformation. I made my living for six years selling an incredible instructional technology program that did an amazing job inspiring young children who had no motivation at home to learn to read. The problem I saw is that billions of dollars each year are spent on bad or mediocre *instructional technology* – programs that good teachers don’t use because they don’t help the students understand any better than not using them. Unless a particular program or tool actually aids in the students’ comprehension of what is being taught, it is useless and not worth spending money to acquire; if it does help, it can be almost priceless. After all, we wouldn’t dream of trying to teach without books, pencils, paper, and chalkboards.

  21. Kaimi Wenger on October 20, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    “as though there were any children left who have ever heard, at school, a good thing said about Columbus or a patriotic thing said about America.”

    So you’re proposing that teachers should reach today’s youth through hyperbole?

  22. MLU on October 20, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    Most people who read this blog have had their brains re-wired and their minds transformed by struggling long hours with rigorous texts and know there is no substitute for reading, though the words need not be written on paper.

    Wallace Stevens:

    The house was quiet and the world was calm.
    The reader became the book; and summer night

    Was like the conscious being of the book.
    The house was quiet and the world was calm.

    The words were spoken as if there was no book,
    Except that the reader leaned above the page,

    Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
    The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

    The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
    The house was quiet because it had to be.

    The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
    The access of perfection to the page.

    And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
    In which there is no other meaning, itself

    Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
    Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

  23. MLU on October 20, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    Kaimi:

    No. That’s not what I’m saying at all.

  24. Patricia Karamesines on October 20, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    # 20: After all, we wouldn’t dream of trying to teach without books, pencils, paper, and chalkboards.

    I sure wouldn’t. In the classroom, I am so totally chalkboard (or whiteboard) dependent.

    But in church or any other classroom, I agree that whatever materials are in play, something real must happen between the teacher and students to catalyze learning. In the most highly charged classrooms, I think the learning runs fast and furious both ways; the teacher gets something out of the experience as well as the students. “Relentless searches” are necessary and good.

  25. Bob on October 20, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    Why ‘the all or nothing talk’?? I’ll make a safe bet each of you use a computer AND read books. I will also bet we would hear a whole different tone if someone try to take away your computer. I have paper and pencil next to my computer,I need both. I take my grandsons to middle school with their over loaded backpacks, those text books,assignments, notes, should all be on a laptop, but keep the teachers. I am with #12, these boated words/thoughts get us nowhere. But I also think cellphone and Ipods should be left a home.

  26. Bob on October 20, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    #24: Just last week I saw a new ‘chalkboard’ that downloaded and stored everything the teacher put on it directly to the laptops of the student. The student then added their notes as needed.

  27. Kevin Barney on October 20, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    I don’t know what the problem is exactly, but something’s wrong with our youth pedagogy in the Church. The kids I talk to are absolutely bored to tears in their church classes. High schoolers are taught material appropriate to a Primary-age classroom. They’re not challenged at all. (Obviously there are good classes and teachers around; I’m just talking about what I see locally.)

    I’m sympathetic to the kids, because I well remember when I was their age thinking the classes were mostly patronizing and not geared to our true abilities. And I didn’t just think that because I was relatively smart; all of my friends agreed. The general miserableness of church teaching made the few really good teachers and classes stand out starkly by contrast.

  28. Ray on October 20, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    There is an excellent tool available to immediately assess which students are understanding the concept being taught and which are not. The teacher teaches something; s/he presents a specific question / problem to the class; the students answer on a their personal tablets; the answers are transmitted immediately to the teacher’s tablet; s/he sees who gets it and who doesn’t – making it possible in that moment to present it in a different way or ask another question to clarify or move on without wasting time on something all understand – and to assign differing homework based on individual need – and to recommend intervention or remediation much more quickly than normal – etc.

  29. Ray on October 20, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    Kevin, I think it’s the fact that we insist on relatively small classes in youth Sunday School. What this gives us is in our ward is the need for four teachers to teach about 25 teenagers. It’s hard to get four excellent teachers, when we also need an excellent Gospel Essentials teacher and an excellent Gospel Doctrine teacher to satisfy the intellectuals who complain incessantly about not being challenged in SS. (*only half-joking chuckle*)

    If we established youth SS classes of no less than 15-20 and put our best teacher in that class, we would be having a different discussion.

  30. Sarah on October 20, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    There are a lot of ways to integrate churchy stuff and technology, but I don’t think many of them will do very much for you when you only have an hour. Technology comes into play most in my class with the handouts I make on my PC and print out at $.10/page: everything else takes so much more time and effort than it’s worth. I only play wiggle music with kids under 7, because they need enough time to wiggle that the CD player is worth the trouble; we don’t play many of the videos we could because it’d take about 20% of the class time just dealing with setup and takedown (you can’t do anything in advance, because all the equipment and classrooms are in use until five minutes before your class starts.) If I had a laptop I MIGHT do more — but the kids get more out of more traditional, non-techy stuff anyway.

    Now if you’re talking about innovations in teaching generally, I say go for it. We did a timeline of the Old Testament in my class last year that took about a month to set up, all along the walls of the room. The kids had to “guess” which year/century each event was associated with — by the fifth week, their “guesses” were right more than 9 times out of 10 (incidentally, I don’t know what it is with that age group, but they get so much joy out of “guessing” that they don’t notice they’re actually memorizing things: this works with song lyrics and the list of books in various volumes of scripture, as well.) I’d be bored out of my mind just reading out of the book or even doing a free lecture, and “stand up if this is true” exercises and coloring pages are the absolute lifeblood of any junior Primary class.

    (I have zero experience in teenage Sunday School, but I bet it’d be more valuable to do almost any activity instead of watching a video there, too. Just so long as you don’t spend all your time on Spiritual Hangman.)

  31. Carol F. on October 20, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    Does anyone remember the BYU American Heritage class with Professors Fox and ?? in the late 80’s? That class was amazingly effective for me and was quite unique on campus for its creative use of technology. These were the days of WordPerfect but the professors fashioned some sort of PowerPoint way of teaching 300 students at a time in an auditorium. Most of the projected material was Hollywood movie clips (I never figured out how they got permission to use those) to match their points. It was sort of like five minutes from the screen and then it was off for a while. I still reflect frequently on things I learned from that class. I thought “everyone” liked that class (but I just did a search and looks like Fox is still there and angering some people these days).

    Anyway, I am surprised that there are those so opposed to PowerPoint in the classroom. I believe in “texture” for the classroom. So many learning styles, so many different ways to teach. I believe in a mixture. Keep ‘em all happy guessing. I have been the Primary chorister for 100 kids for 14 months. The teachers are always grinning at me (it was unnerving at first) and the Primary Presidency is very pleased. They even give me Sharing Time quite a bit. The kids are only well-behaved for me and not for anyone else. I have done PowerPoint, movie clips, poster boards, objects from home like dolls, magic potions, role plays, instruments, etc. Only one approach a week and never the same thing twice in a row. I’m guessing, but I think most people appreciate dimension and variety.

  32. Carol F. on October 20, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    And Sarah, I hear ya about the setup. I would use more PowerPoint or video clips if it were faster. Faster=$1000+ for my own projector and screen.

  33. Patricia Karamesines on October 20, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    # 26: Just last week I saw a new ‘chalkboard’ that downloaded and stored everything the teacher put on it directly to the laptops of the student. The student then added their notes as needed.

    I’ve never heard of this before. I’m in total gottahaveit mode. (How many pennies does it run on?) ;->

  34. Julie M. Smith on October 20, 2007 at 11:53 pm

    Ray, increasing church class sizes is interesting and would certainly help discussions along. But in most wards, it would put 12 yos in the same room at 17yos and therefore either exacerbate our problems with teaching below the level of the students or overwhelm the 12yos.

  35. Mark D. on October 21, 2007 at 12:28 am

    Dave (#13),

    The problem with the quote is it is a ‘just so’ statement with little or no evidence for its implied conclusion. The observation that students do not like work is not particularly sagacious. The really pertinent issue is will students learn more and more effectively using the approach advocated than using traditional techniques.

    The suggested techniques sound like they would win a student popularity contest, but that doesn’t mean they are more effective. Based on my limited experience as a student and as a teacher, I suspect rather that the use of computers is a net negative in most public school classrooms. What does one really learn from playing Oregon Trail a dozen times, for example?

    What evidence is there that team based learning doesn’t generally suffer fatally from the “free rider” effect? Or that an environment of instant gratification doesn’t engender laziness? And so on…

  36. Dave on October 21, 2007 at 1:30 am

    Mark D. (#35), I’m not arguing for a popularity contest approach. I perhaps used the term “want” in comment 13 rather loosely. The quote conveys it better: current students have been shaped by an environment that is information and communication rich, etc. It’s not like students consciously say, “Hey, give me something visual, that’s what I want.” They’ve just grown up with a different information delivery system. Complaining because they’re not happy just being passive listeners in class or because they aren’t studious readers like we were as students (or not!) is like complaining that no one learns Latin anymore. The point may be technically correct but it’s irrelevant if your goal is to engage the students (the ones we have, not the hypothetical passive studious ones) and actually teach them something.

    I submit that our goal in church teaching should be exactly that: to engage the students and to teach them “the gospel” — which includes how to think and reason about the scriptures and LDS history, and apply it to the challenges and opportunities of their own present-day lives. Anything we can do that accomplishes this more effectively should be considered. It doesn’t have to be high tech: “team-based” and “visually based” can be pencil and paper stuff.

    I share Kevin’s sense (#27) that boredom and disengagement are as much of a threat to LDS classrooms as they are to traditional classrooms. I feel we’re losing youth that we shouldn’t, and part of the reason is the many hours we have them in the classroom is somehow failing to engage them.

  37. Jim F. on October 21, 2007 at 2:37 am

    Isn’t the real problem we have bad teaching, both in church and in school, rather than a lack of technology? Good teachers will use technology as appropriate, whether old technology like books and chalk boards or new technology like notes that download to student computers. But putting another technology into the hands of bad teachers is unlikely to do anything to make them better teachers. Student boredom is a comment about pedagogy, not technology or its absence.

  38. Veritas on October 21, 2007 at 2:40 am

    “And yet, if you ask those same “Net Generation” students questions about history, art, math, science, and etc. then even the smart ones will know less than at least two generations ago”

    I hate comments like this. The ‘net generation’ are so much more savvy than earlier generations. They understand the world around them, they understand and use technology. Talking to the kids of that generation that I know, they are definitely way ahead of me in math and science. I hate how people love to hate on ‘those darn teenagers’.

  39. queuno on October 21, 2007 at 2:43 am

    Student boredom is a comment about pedagogy, not technology or its absence.

    Jim, it’s also a comment about parenting.

  40. California Condor on October 21, 2007 at 2:43 am

    Jim F. (37)

    I agree.

  41. California Condor on October 21, 2007 at 2:44 am

    Veritas (38)

    I think you’re right. I think I would have learned more in high school if I had Wikipedia at my fingertips.

  42. MLU on October 21, 2007 at 3:50 am

    Complaining because they’re not happy just being passive listeners in class or because they aren’t studious readers like we were as students (or not!) is like complaining that no one learns Latin anymore. The point may be technically correct but it’s irrelevant if your goal is to engage the students (the ones we have, not the hypothetical passive studious ones) and actually teach them something.

    I mostly agree, though I also think students today continue to learn quite well what we really are teaching, including that rigorous reading is no longer important, and that if they are bored it is the teacher’s fault, and that Latin, history, literature and much of religion isn’t as important in the 21st Century as it used to be, and that the way the General Authorities teach isn’t as exciting and therefore as engaging as a video game. . .

  43. Veritas on October 21, 2007 at 4:19 am

    See there you go again…why don’t you just use video games to teach them about latin, history and religion? I’m all for learning through play. And I hardly think that most teenagers think that religion isn’t important in the 21st century, considering the part it plays in most of todays current events. I think most teenagers probably understand history, politics and religion and lot better than any of us did at that age.

    As for rigorous reading, what imaginary world are you thinking of when that was EVER something mainstream? And since when were liking video games and reading mutually exclusive? I think someone already mentioned that books wouldn’t even be accessible if it wasn’t for technology. And computers are making books even more accessible, from libraries, to amazon, to screen readers for the blind.

  44. comet on October 21, 2007 at 4:30 am

    My own teaching is discussion-centered but enhanced through Moodle forums online. I find that the different “follow-up” medium helps sustain the classroom conversation in interesting ways. Of course, if it came down to live, classroom discussion in the flesh versus online forums then the former wins hands down but why not have both, as one of the earlier bloggers commented?

  45. Seth R. on October 21, 2007 at 8:03 am

    I consider the technology-in-the-classroom movement to be largely a colossal waste of education dollars. Everyone wants some magic number – like student-to-computer ratios – that they can plunk down and solve all our woes.

    Paying decent teacher salaries would do five times more for the education system than any technology initiative you might come up with.

  46. Mark IV on October 21, 2007 at 8:20 am

    Technology in the hands of a bad teacher won’t make the class good, but it can make it less bad. A classroom hour that was killing students with boredom can be saved by a well-made video presentation. The church and CES has them by the hundreds.

    It is obvious even to this deaf, dumb, and blind kid that technology helps us learn. The church has invested millions in figuring out how to deliver its message through the use of technological means. The latest TV and radio campaign invites people to visit mormon dot org and interact online with missionaries who give (shudder) instant feedback. And as you drive around town this week, count how many other churches have satellite dishes in the parking lot, then come back to this forum and deride visual learning. I hope that nobody who claims that you can’t learn from a video screen watched conference two weeks ago.

  47. MLU on October 21, 2007 at 10:33 am

    #43

    I do use technology. I didn’t say anything bad about technology or its use.

    My point was that public ed is largely a wasteland when it comes to the humanities and that the current focus on newer technologies was a further distraction rather than a model.

    The church’s uses of technology have been quite different than those that were touted up front. It focuses on connecting distant people and making it possible to have better teachers speaking to much more vast audiences. I think that direction will continue to improve education.

    I also have a lot of hope that video game technology will make the nature and structure of human reality a little more apparent and easier to teach.

  48. MLU on October 21, 2007 at 10:50 am

    A brief video on this topic

  49. Dave on October 21, 2007 at 11:09 am

    MLU, awesome link. The 5 minute video is a great collage of the issues we’ve been kicking around on this thread. And I’ll note the video project itself is … collaborative, participatory, and visually based. I’ll bet the students learned more from participating in the video project than from reading (or not) their $100 textbook!

  50. Patricia Karamesines on October 21, 2007 at 11:13 am

    # 39: … it’s also a comment about parenting.

    Maybe, but since we’re focusing on the classroom here, at church and, by extension, on public campuses, I think plenty of students, and possibly some of the most engaged and exciting students, come looking for something in classrooms because their home environments left them wanting. For such students, able teachers can make all the difference.

    Also, some students come from good enough or better homes, and they’re looking for something more, too, maybe because they expect it to be there or because some quirk of personality has caused them to ignore the intellectual and spiritual home fires. Either way, for such students, a good teacher can light up the sky.

  51. Norbert on October 21, 2007 at 11:37 am

    How about this? Assign students to find everything they can online about a gospel topic … say, the temple or Joseph Smith. Then discuss as a class.

  52. MLU on October 21, 2007 at 11:37 am

    I remain skeptical.

    My son, who regularly sets the curve in the rigorous curriculum he’s taking at college, loves to make videos but doesn’t have time. He also doesn’t surf Facebook during class, while thinking the lectures are a waste of his time. I feel a little sorry for the kids in the video, who have been taught that attending lectures at a great university is a waste of their time.

    I enjoyed General Conference on my television at home, and I’m glad the speakers just talked (though I also enjoyed the live thread here). If Jesus had presented “The Activity on the Mount” I doubt we would remember.

    On the other hand, I think if Shakespeare were here now he would be working with video, and to a great extent I do, too.

    Education works best when, as Patricia says, students come looking for something and when teachers know that to be young and on a quest for understanding is to walk in enchanted realms. The enchantment, not the technology, is the key.

  53. Jim F. on October 21, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    I started college in 1965, and I’ve been taking classes, in one form or another, every semester since. I’ve seen a tremendous amount of change in what technology is available. The distance from the mimeograph machine to the handheld computer is almost infinite. The two constants of a good course, however, seem to me to be, as Patricia pointed out (#50), the desire of the student and the desire of the teacher, and the latter is the more important of the two. (A good teacher can sometimes spark interest in an otherwise withdrawn and alienated student; a good student can rarely, if ever, encourage a bad teacher to improve.)

    Like everyong, I’ve attended horrible lectures. It is easy to give a very bad lecture, so they are more common than really good ones. However, I’ve learned a great deal from other lectures. One of my most memorable moments as a learner came in a three-hour lecture. The lectures I learned from were given by teachers who were well-prepared and well-organized, and who had something to say that I couldn’t get from a book (or on-line). Good teachers who’ve used technology newer than the blackboard were no different than those who didn’t. Each thought about the best way for them to teach the lesson and used the resources available to do so.

    Contra Mark IV (#46), I think that technology seldom makes a class less bad. The priesthood teacher who, rather than prepare a lesson, grabs a video from the ward library and shows it, isn’t teaching at all. The video (or other technology–you choose your favorite) rarely teaches very much unless the teacher has thought about how to use it in class.

  54. Bob on October 21, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    #53:” The video (or other technology–you choose your favorite) rarely teaches very much unless the teacher has thought about how to use it in class.” 90% right..but then there are Ken Burns Videos.

  55. Susan M on October 21, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    I was just thinking in stake conference today about how primary lesson manuals cover all the learning types—visual learners, auditory learners, kinetic learners. As does the temple.

    I teach the oldest girls in primary and they’re tough. The manual really is below them. One day recently I had trouble getting any of them to pay attention. I finally asked one question and got one of the girls to answer it—and she reeled off everything the lesson was to cover in a few sentences.

  56. Bob on October 21, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    #33: Before you buy** Think about the wise guy on the back row, who takes over your Broad with his laptop, and starts to show farm animals on it!
    Once I…..never mind.

  57. Ray on October 21, 2007 at 9:37 pm

    #34 – Julie, I would never put 12-year-olds with 17-year-olds. I would have no problem, however, grouping 12-14-year-olds and 15-17-year-olds – if that meant having two excellent classes instead of 2 excellent ones and 2 mediocre ones.

    As I have expressed previously, I am an advocate of good technology that enhances education and is used naturally as an instructional tool. However, at the most basic level, I am a teacher – and a good teacher is FAR more important than good tools. Having said that, let me share an analogy.

    If you had to have surgery and had the following choices, which one would you choose?

    1) A med school student with access to the best diagnostic and surgical equipment in the world.
    2) An experienced doctor with 2nd generation technology – acceptable quality, but nothing unique or special.
    3) The best trained surgeon in the world using a hammer and a butter knife.

    I would choose #2, and I view education (and, really, all occupations) the same way. First and foremost, I want every teacher to receive the training necessary to be good at what they do, including access to any technologies that simply are vital to doing their job at a minimally acceptable level. Once they reach that acceptable level of understanding and ability, I want them to receive excellent technological tools. Once they have those tools, I want them to receive even better training.

  58. Sam B. on October 21, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    I was going to say what Susan M said, only she said it first: I agree that the kids are often bored to tears; I am, too, quite frequently, both in the lesson prep and when I’m in lessons. Technology could probably be used well (although frankly, I don’t have the money for a projector, either), but I don’t think that’s the problem. Most, I imagine, would use PowerPoint in the same way they use the chalkboard, ideal for an audio or visual learner. (And frankly, that’s what I am.)

    The focus of my wife’s Masters (in dance education) was, to a large extent, that different kids (and adults) have different learning styles. Some learn by listening and reading. Others, though, learn through dance or acting or in another way. If we can’t focus, as teachers, on alternative learning styles, I’m not sure that technology will do us a lot of good. That is, if church teachers just use technology to do what they do already without tech, we’ll still be reaching the same kids we reached without the technology. If we get the kids up acting out (or dancing or singing) the story of Daniel, as well as tell it and project it and read it, we’ve hit a whole lot more people, and possibly opened new insight on the story, insight we couldn’t have provided through less-participatory means.

  59. Sterling on October 21, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    Has anyone studied the learning styles of the Latter-day Saints? I suspect that for a long time we were primarily auditory learners. We found it easy to absorb and understand information when it was presented in lecture formats. That helps explain why sacrament meeting talks have been around for so long. The rising generation of church members, however, seems to have followed the ways of the world and become primarily visual learners. The rise of church media seems to correspond with this shift in learning styles. The tension I see is between members who have grown up accustomed to the lecture model and those who have more recently come to feel that a talking head is the least effective teaching method. Do we have studies that document this generational shift in Latter-day Saint learning styles?

  60. WillF on October 21, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    I personally think that people learn best by solving problems. By ‘problem’ I mean an unresolved situation that calls for an action to bring about resolution. Good instructors give their students well-sequenced problems and then act as a resource, and point students to other resources to solve these problems. Look at music education for example. Your piano teacher gives you a new piece to learn that is slightly more difficult than the last one you learned. You “solve the problem” through the process of mastering it. The teacher selects the piece not only because it is more difficult, but because it may be in a key that is weak for you, or because it will teach you more about playing sustained notes. The teacher also thinks about what will be a piece of music engaging to you.

    I think that many students are disengaged because in school they aren’t enountering problems to solve that are more interesting than the problems they get to solve in video games, Facebook, etc… Getting past the final boss in Zelda provides a very engaging problem to solve. Getting someone to notice you in Facebook is another engaging problem. There is a lot of competition in the problem-solving universe, and schools need to up their game.

    Other people have other theories about how people learn: http://tip.psychology.org/theories.html The discussion needs to be around how people learn, and how technology can be a tool to catalyze the learning process.

  61. Bob on October 21, 2007 at 10:29 pm

    #57: Isn’t one of the big questions..do we have any choices? Is Apple Pie still on the menu? I believe good teachers are harder and harder to come by. But technology is a runaway train. Ray, you know I hate today’s music..so what? I can’t stop it. Mozart is a White Buffalo..he’s not coming back. What I don’t know..are we going to do it right (technology), or create a bunch of Jello heads.

  62. Sterling on October 21, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    WillF: I think the problem-solving approach has a lot of merit also. But what about learning by the Spirit? Have you considered that maybe the scriptures shed some light on this question of learning styles?

  63. Ray on October 21, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    Bob (#62) – Yes, “we” do have a choice, but whether individual schools and districts truly have a choice **within the constraints of their current structural and decision making systems** is a valid question.

    I rode to the temple yesterday with a member of our bishopric who is a public school teacher. Obviously, given our common backgrounds and interests, we discussed education for a good portion of the drive. A couple of things about which we agree:

    1) He is trying to become a principal, knowing his best chance is to start as an assistant principal. He routinely competes with at least 40-50 applicants here in the OH/KY/IN area every time he applies for a position, and a large percentage of them are “retired” principals and even superintendents who are receiving retirement benefits from the state and are willing to “go back to work” for only a salary – often less than what a regular, experienced principal or assistant principle would make. That might sound good at first, but it keeps qualified “new blood” from leading schools, and it entrenches old views, perspectives, educational philosophies and technological biases even more deeply within the school systems where they work. It also frustrates those who want to go into administration to affect change and drives many of them out of education completely.

    2) Those classes that flourish the best often are those about which the administration doesn’t care – Intro to Music, Art, and other “electives” that don’t affect the state evaluations that have a major impact on funding and classification and outside pressure. These classes, where teachers often are told, “We don’t care what you do; just try to make the class enjoyable for the students,” tend to be the classes where innovative teachers have free reign to employ unique and engaging teaching methods (including truly fun technology) – ironically, because the students and teachers aren’t overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that needs to be memorized in order to demonstrate “proficiency” by passing a state-mandated test.

    Do we have a choice? Definitely – if, and only if, there is a strong school or district leader who simply makes it happen, initial consensus be damned. However, given the extreme focus on consensus in most schools and state Departments of Education, that type of systemic change is very, very difficult.

  64. WillF on October 21, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    Sterling: how do the scriptures support learning styles?

  65. Sterling on October 21, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    WillF:

    Here are some possibilities:

    Some might use this scripture to argue that lecturing can work well for auditory learners: “when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Ne. 33:1).

    I can see some teachers using this scripture to justify their lecture approach: “Ye are not sent forth to be taught, but to teach the children of men the things which I have put into your hands by the power of my Spirit” (D&C 43:15).

    Some might use this scriptural story as evidence for the existence of kinesthetic learning styles. Others might see it as suggesting the need to be responsive to this and other student learning styles: Shortly after his resurrection, Christ, without revealing his identity, joined two travelers on their way to Emmaus. As they walked, the three traded questions and shared scriptures. At the conclusion of their journey, Christ revealed himself and then vanished. These two disciples turned to each other and said, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way”? (Luke 24:32). Note the verse does not say Christ talked “to” them, rather he talked “with” them.

    Perhaps people might use this Book of Mormon verse to argue that teachers should not presume they know what is best for their students: The priest, once he finished his preaching, did not esteem “himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal” (Alma 1:26).

    Some might use this verse to argue that teachers who fail to figure out how to see the world through the eyes of their students are not fully teaching by the Spirit: “Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22).

  66. WillF on October 22, 2007 at 12:32 am

    Sterling: Thanks for sharing these excellent references. These are quite relevant

    I would definitely agree that people learn in different ways and have different strengths — I just lean more towards the philosophy that “what is being taught” should have as much control over the way it is being taught as “who is being taught.” So in your examples above I would also argue that a more subjective lesson, e.g. “overcoming selfishness” would require a more Alma 1:26 and D&C 50:22 approach, while a more concrete lesson, e.g. “let’s memorize the articles of faith” would require a more 2 Ne. 33:1 / D&C 43:15 approach. And since feeling the spirit is inherently a kinesthetic experience, it requires a kinesthetic instructional strategy.

  67. Bob on October 22, 2007 at 1:53 am

    #64: Ray, let say (to make it simple), between 0-23, we have 100 million kids to teach. Do we have a system that can do that ? Are there enough teachers?
    If not, we will/must use technology more and more. This is what I mean by lack of choice.
    I see more of the classrooms in the video of #48. One big screen, one Great teacher, 300 in the class. I would rather one teacher, one book, and 20 kids, etc. But I think those days are gone. Soon books and book stores will be gone. Soon libraries will be gone. Soon live music will be gone. Kids no longer care about carrying in there heads a lot of facts or ideas. They have Google. The want to be the rifle, not the ammunition wagon.

  68. jjohnsen on October 22, 2007 at 11:56 am

    “I teach the oldest girls in primary and they’re tough. The manual really is below them. One day recently I had trouble getting any of them to pay attention. I finally asked one question and got one of the girls to answer it—and she reeled off everything the lesson was to cover in a few sentences.”
    I teach the twelve and thirteen year olds Sunday school. It quickly became annoying to say th first sentence of a story about one of the prophets only to have all the kids chime in to quickly finish the story that they’d heard twenty times. We don’t use technology in the class, but technology has enabled me to find more material to keep them interested instead of repeating the same few facts every child seems to know about latter-day prophets. I’ve also encouraged them to use the internet to look up answers to questions they have that may not be relevant to the lesson.

    I don’t know how useful iPods are to children as learning tools, but mine has been invaluable. I can read notes that I’ve taken in class onto my laptop then transfer that file to my ipod to listen to while I drive to work. Many Universities offer free ipod-compatible lectures and classes that I can listen too, giving me that much more time to learn instead of listening to talk radio, which is horrible. Technology has allowed me to take classes online that were only offered during the day, meaning I can still support my family by working and be home at night instead of out at all hours.

  69. Jacob M on October 22, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    51 – the Temple might not be the best subject to research online. Search google for LDS temples, and you will see what I mean! A true case of TMI!

  70. Julie M. Smith on October 22, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    “Kids no longer care about carrying in there heads a lot of facts or ideas. ”

    What kids care about doesn’t matter. Especially if they think googling is a substitute for knowing things.

  71. Bob on October 22, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    #71:As a boy, I cared about the names of all the States and their capitals, the names and order of all the Presidents, all the counties in South America. Now, knowing how to Google is more important.

  72. Matt W. on October 22, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    At one company I worked at, a popular quote was something to the effect that the amount of information available to people used to double once a century, whereas now it doubles once a year. No one can know all the data anymore, we must all specialize and it no longer matters what facts you know, but if you know what to do with those facts. (which, as an aside, is less and less practically taught…in my experience)

    Julie, usually I wholeheartedly agree with you, this time I do not. In a sunday school setting where there is no discipline or capacity to instill discipline and many of the kids aren’t there out of desire to learn anything, what the kids care about really does matter to a teacher who is interested in connecting with and making a difference. Sunday School is not high school.

  73. Tanya Spackman on October 22, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Bob, I would argue that knowing how to think and knowing basic information is more important than knowing how to Google. If you lack either of the first two things, the third thing will be nearly useless to you.

  74. Norbert on October 22, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    #70 Jacob M, I was kidding — that’s a pretty common quickie-activity for a social studies class, and I wanted to show its limitations in a sunday school class.

  75. Jacob M on October 22, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    For some reason I missed the humor, which I can plainly see, now! That’s really disconcerting. I feel like I’m being way too serious! To those who know me, saying that is so out of my normal character. I think they’d faint! Anyway, sorry about killing your joke.

    I’m also a little less inclined to bring computer stuff into sunday school, if mostly for the already mentioned above reason of it being more of a distraction that a helper.

  76. Carol F. on October 22, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Last year for the adult session of Stake Conference, the Regional Representative gave his entire talk on PowerPoint. I thought it was refreshing.

    In an effective meeting course I took once as a project manager at Intel Corporation, they talked about keeping notes visually (as in chalkboard or PowerPoint or overhead) as being very important. The notes establish a “group memory” that allow people to go into very important creative time some would call daydreaming, and still allow people to find their place again. In church that daydreaming time might be meditation or figuring things out or making resolutions. I had an institute class once that would have benefited from this method greatly. Even if I heard every word I may not have made sense of what the teacher was trying to teach. I eventually dropped out because of frustration.

  77. Ray on October 22, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    #68 – Yes, we do in the vast majority of schools and districts in the country. The bodies are available. Quality is the central issue, not quantity.

  78. Bob on October 22, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    #74: And I guess I am saying, in the modern world the first two things are useless, if you can’t do the third. By ‘Google’, I mean use technology.
    #78: I only know L.A. 30-40 kids per class, some schools with 23 languages!