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

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

“There can be so much available that they can easily lose focus and wander aimlessly during scripture study,” Olsen said. “For many it’s just too much to have ‘Angry Birds,’ text messaging and the scriptures available during class. Not knowing what your students are looking at or doing during class can also be a distraction for a teacher.”

Slaughter agreed. It’s too easy for students to swipe to Facebook or Twitter, he said.

“Most kids are good about it, but there are always three or four in each class that are trying to get away with it. You want to trust kids to use electronics in class because there are great advantages to it, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet,” Slaughter said. “I’ve invited them to put it away. … The reality is it requires self-discipline, just like everything else.”

Casperson requires students using a mobile device to place it flat on the desk, like a paper copy, so it is treated more like a book.

“This allows me to see exactly what’s on their screen,” Casperson said.

A priesthood leader in Colorado Springs handled it this way:

“In the Colorado Springs East Stake, electronic scriptures are not allowed in seminary,” Webb said. “That’s the stake president’s policy. That doesn’t mean we don’t have students who still try to use them.”

Morgan Allred, a junior at Syracuse High, has relished her seminary experience but has strong feelings about using traditional scriptures.

“I’m not too fond of scriptures on our phones; it’s too much of a distraction,” she said. “I prefer my print scriptures.”

Zack Willard, a junior at Clearfield High, said he also prefers “old school” scriptures.

“Honestly, it’s another temptation to not pay attention. You need a hard copy of the scriptures until you can learn to be mature,” he said. “I’m going to have my kids use a hard copy.”

Keeping traditional methods

All the teachers agreed that “old school” methods still work.

“There is nothing more powerful than the word of God,” Webb said. “Any technology should be used for the purpose of helping students feel the power of the word. Open the scriptures, read them, discuss them, testify of them and invite to act — that works whether I have a PowerPoint to assist me or a video to emphasize a principle.”

Asking the students to write their thoughts, feelings and impressions in a journal is another traditional method that doesn’t involve technology.

“We invite them to ponder and write because the Holy Ghost is a better teacher than any of us,” Slaughter said.

Helping the students understand their role and the role of the Holy Ghost in the learning process also makes a difference, Olsen said.

“I try to commit my students to making this hour in seminary an hour where they can find God through reverence, meditation and the whisperings of the still small voice,” Olsen said. “This can only be done by eliminating as many distractions as we possibly can.”

Brian Mickelson, another teacher at the Bear River Seminary, emphasized the social interaction.

“Electronics often distance us from other humans, and a traditional classroom setting offers opportunities to maintain human relationships and interaction,” Mickelson said. “Yahoo recently instructed employees to come into the office to increase collaboration and synergy. … When it comes to the gospel, collaboration and synergy are so important. Face-to-face communication enhances that.”

Going forward

When asked to speculate on future trends involving technology in seminary, Shepherd chuckled. He said seminaries and institutes would continue to teach the scriptures sequentially, helping students to understand the content and context as well as doctrines and principles.

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