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Technology in seminary: Is it enhancing or distracting the experience?

Published: Thursday, March 28 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

In the institute program, students are also allowed Internet access, Shepherd said, in an effort to encourage them to do their homework, socialize and participate in activities.

Video conferencing has also been utilized for training and communication purposes among teachers and administrators, Shepherd said.

Enhancing the experience

Several full-time seminary/institute teachers were asked how technology is helping to enhance their students’ experience in the classroom. There were many positive responses.

When a student shares an insightful comment that resonates with the class, Joshua Casperson, a teacher in the Seattle area, immediately posts it on the class Facebook/Twitter page.

Ryan Webb, a teacher in Colorado Springs, Colo., said a gospel principle is more impactful when students hear it taught directly from a general authority.

“Instead of me saying it, if I can have a 30-second clip of an apostle saying it, it’s more powerful,” Webb said. “It’s not ‘wow’ technology, but it’s powerful.”

Ryan Olsen, a teacher at the Bear River High seminary in Garland, Utah, agrees with Webb.

“Resources like this engage the learner by allowing them to watch and listen to general authorities teach, tell stories and feel the spirit of their message. The youth today respond to this in wonderful ways,” Olsen said. “For the most part, they are eager to learn and apply doctrine. Seeing and hearing our church leaders also brings a spirit of truth and gratitude that I cannot get by just reading it to them.”

With the vast image library, along with Mormon Messages and similar media, scenes only previous described can suddenly be shown. The classroom can become the Sea of Galilee, a temple or Liberty Jail, Olsen said.

George Slaughter, a seminary teacher at Clearfield High, thinks media is most effective when a teacher wants to illustrate a principle or doctrine that has been discussed. Occasionally he allows students to use their cellphones to search for a quote from a church leader that goes along with the lesson, then share it with the class.

“That’s sometimes where we get students to a feeling level,” Slaughter said. “Sometimes it can spark a spiritual memory. As we share those experiences, we’re opening the door for the Holy Ghost to testify to them that what they are talking about is true, then they are more likely to act on those feelings.”

Technology has shown a significant impact for students with special needs. Sally Hanna has taught special needs seminary and institute in the Salt Lake Valley for more than 30 years. Tablet technology has unlocked doors that were previously closed for students who are visually impaired or who have intellectual or physical disabilities, Hanna said.

“It gives them a voice,” she said. “They have never had anything that was as easy for them to use. Class is more visual, interactive and fun. They can enjoy the same technology as their peers.”

Tablet technology enables students to find scriptures and read them more easily. Teachers can control what programs are accessed. For those students who can’t speak, now it’s possible to type out a short prayer, stand in front of the class and hit the speaker button.

“We’ve come a long, long way,” Hanna said. “I used to go around and find scriptures for everyone. I rarely have to help them now. It gives them a feeling of confidence.”

Distractions

One major downside to technology, particularly with electronic scriptures, is how easily students can be distracted.

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