Teaching 20th Century Students in the 21st Century

by Jason & Roberta Roberts

Roberts fam 4x6 redTechnology has advanced so quickly in the last few decades that is overwhelming at times. Trying to keep computers running with the most current upgrades and keeping programs up-to-date as well seems like an endless battle; yet doing many daily activities like reading the Bible and other books, checking e-mail, browsing through Facebook and chatting with family in the States on the iPad is so convenient and easy.

In the same way, technology has made it easier to prepare lessons, teach, stay connected with students, and store lessons and resources for future use. Between using the Bible software on the computer to read through several commentaries to looking up information on the Internet, I realize how I have become dependent upon technology for studying and preparing for classes. I quickly cut and paste information into my notes (carefully noting the source information), download a couple of pictures to put into the slide show and print out a handout for the students. Several times students have sent me a message using WhatsApp (a phone messaging app) or Facebook to ask me about an assignment or another question that they had about the class. It’s hard to remember what we did before all of these technological advances; oh right, that’s why we have so many bookshelves full of books, notebooks full of hand-written notes and filing cabinets full of resources, magazine article clippings and notes. Now it is my hard drive that is full of videos and files that are related to different topics.

Teaching techniques have also been upgraded. Even some of the private elementary schools here in Tuxtla have a media room equipped with an iPad for each student so that they can interact with the teacher and textbook. They can write on their iPads and their teacher can choose which student’s work is shown on the interactive chalkboard for all to see. Even homework assignments for first graders include researching topics on the Internet and reporting the results to the class.

Another new concept called the “flipped classroom” involves the teacher recording a video of the lecture that he/she will give on a subject and posting it online. The students have to watch the video as homework, and then class time is spent on projects/activities that apply the content. It allows the teacher to guide the students as they work through the practical side of the teaching, instead of hoping they can do it on their own outside of class. Even when students are required to read the textbook before class, many times they do not understand it; and a good portion of class time is spent in clarifying the concepts, with only a little time left to actually applying them. This technique seeks to reduce the amount of class time used for explaining and presenting and increase one-on-one time with students as they work through how to use the knowledge that they have acquired.

The challenges

Technology 3Although technology improves our lives in many ways, it also creates challenges for our Bible Schools.

First of all, not all students have access to computers, tablets, and smartphones. Although more and more ISUM students have some form of electronic mobile device, the majority of our Bible Institute students do not have one. Turning in a typed paper requires the students to go to a cybercafé and peck on the keyboard for hours or they have to hire someone to type it for them; either way they have to pay in order to complete the assignment. This same challenge applies to using the “flipped classroom” technique for teaching. If all the students had access to a tablet or even a smartphone, this would be a great way to teach the material so that class time could be used more efficiently. Unfortunately, we have to be aware of our students’ situation and be careful not to give assignments that are beyond their technological abilities. Although we live in the 21st Century, many of our students do not have access to 21st Century technology.

Even if students do have the technology, it can be difficult for the Bible School to provide the infrastructure to use it. When ISUM students arrived on campus last June, our network suddenly was bombarded with mobile devices as the students logged in and contacted their families to let them know that they had arrived. Getting a good Internet connection in the community where the Bible School is located has been a challenge. At few years ago the only option was through the cell phone company, which required a router that could interface with a USB modem, a cell signal booster, and a 5Gig plan that was outrageously expensive. It worked but was not reliable; and the monthly bill was so high that it had be cancelled after a few months. Just this last year we were able to get a cable modem, so the connection is more stable and a little cheaper. Providing Internet access on campus can be a huge challenge in many communities.

An ideal solution would be to have computers available for the students to use while at the Bible School, but this creates its own set of problems. First of all, initial funding for the computers is a challenge. In the Bible School here in Tuxtla, there is barely enough money to give the teachers an offering and keep the lights on, let alone outfit a computer lab. And even if the computers were furnished, their upkeep requires somebody who knows how to maintain computers and can keep the anti-virus software up-to-date. Although USB drives are a wonderful invention and very useful, they are also the mosquitoes of death for an unprotected computer.

Another challenge that is arising due to technology is the replacement of books by e-books. Many publishers are now providing e-books and are not printing as many physical books. Printing, shipping and selling costs have made e-books much more practical in the United States; even some public schools are moving towards e-textbooks. This affects us very negatively because several of the textbooks are no longer in print. As publishers choose e-books over books, it becomes increasingly difficult for our students to have textbooks. For those who do have tablets, it becomes more practical because they can store an entire library in a small device.

Our response

As technology advances, we need to be proactive. First, we need to research and discuss the most effective ways to use technology for ministerial formation. As missionary educators, we cover the gamut of generations, from Builders to Generation Y, and are teaching students from every generation. We face the challenge of preparing ourselves to effectively teach Generation Z (born 1995-2010), as they enter our Bible Schools, while still effectively teaching the Baby Boomers.

Secondly, more and more churches are implementing technology in their services, and the students need to be trained in this area as well. They will be facing the same challenge that we do as they minister to people from every generation. We must be aware of our students’ situation and help some of them step into the 21st Century by providing assignments that challenge but not overwhelm:

  • Assigning one or two papers that must be typed;
  • Give the option of e-mailing assignments;
  • Some assignments can require the use of Internet research;
  • They must watch a video (whether we record it or someone else) from the Internet related to the theme (post it on YouTube);
  • Assign a group project that includes a Powerpoint presentation, a video, podcast or blog;
  • Create a Google Docs or Dropbox folder for sharing assignments and resources;
  • Give extra or modified assignments to those who do have access to technology.

Teaching always requires us to adjust our methods in order to best teach our students; this applies to technology access as well as learning styles and reading abilities. While using the technological advancements of the 21st Century to improve our teaching, we must be aware of the situation of our students and adjust our methods accordingly.

  • As we all face the challenges of the 21st Century from a technological standpoint, how do you respond?
  • In what ways have your class preparation and teaching changed due to technology?
  • How do you implement technology in your classroom? for assignments?
  • How have you seen technology implemented in the Bible School?
  • What are some suggestions that you have for proactively helping our Bible Schools move into the 21st Century?
  • What are some of your favorite apps to use for education?

8 Replies to “Teaching 20th Century Students in the 21st Century”

  1. Very enlightening! It looks like our students will become more smartphone based in the future so apps like WhatsAPP, etc. will become more and more indispensable.

  2. Very informative and educational. Thanks for addressing the challenge of eBooks textbooks vs. out-of-print books.

  3. Great job. Thanks for the insights and a heads up regarding the technological challenges in the 21st century. In the Caribbean, CST is faced with the same kinds of challenges. CST is investigating how to bridge the technological gaps by locating existing data bases for library research, ebook libraries that can be read online and downloaded, the idea of attempting to locate used, up dated, notebook computers, and the list goes on.

    CST will attempt to keep others up-to-date regarding our findings and applications. Again, thanks for the great article. Blessings

  4. Good thoughts and an excellent conversation starter. So much is being done to connect with the digital native yet there remains the need to keep technology a high touch experience. Our students need a blended approach where they learn using all forms.

  5. Very interesting article. I agree, we need to use more technology in the classroom and at the same time take into account the accesibility to technology that our students may have.

  6. Thanks Jason! We have had to teach a basic course on using computers and getting people to sign up for email account. As a teacher I am realizing that I cannot depend on my notes from 20 years ago, that I now have to spend time doing investigation on internet, even searching for short videos on Youtube. May God give us wisdom on how to incorporate all these things in our teaching.

  7. Thanks for a very good article. Teaching in Paraguay at LACC schools I find that we are facing the same situations as you. We have directors, teachers, staff and students from different generations and all with different levels of technological experience and devices. I find I am being challenged constantly to learn and keep learning everything I can so that I can teach others. Blessings.

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