I teach a subject called Christian Living with a team of two other educators. Our students are in Years 12 and 13. There are three tutor groups (for my North American friends, this is the term used in New Zealand to describe ‘homeroom classes’) in each year level. Each of the teachers discuss a topic of their choice with a new tutor group each term, so rotating through all three groups in each year level. Since the Year 12’s and 13’s are only in school for about three weeks in Term 4, we plan on doing big group discussions with both year levels in the last term as we wrap up the year’s classes.
In Year 12, I tried to develop a Christian apologetic around the use of technology. A lot of us do not intentionally think through the positive and negative effects that technology can have on our lives. In this class I attempt to develop students’ thinking around this topic because thinking matters …
One of the ways you can empower your students to contribute to the teaching and learning of a subject is to ask them for feedback. Yesterday I gave my Year 12’s an opportunity to provide me with some feedback on the term’s topic and here are some of my reflections on their responses.
- “Technology (that delives social media and music) can be distracting if it is not used wisely. I have to institute tech breaks to help it not take over my life.” When prompted, many students will tell you right away that their communication technology, such as smartphones or other Internet-enabled devices, are distracting. However, our students do not always get that prompt and as a consequence do not make time to think through the ramifications of the thoughtless overuse of technology. I am thankful that my students are not only able to verbalise the possible problem but they are also aware of a solution.
- “Technology will replace some jobs.” I showed them a video about automation that appeared a few weeks ago on Reddit and YouTube. Although this video is rather one-sided, it is also quite sobering. The Christian worldview gives a lot of hope in this scenario though. God is sovereignly in control and the source of all wisdom. As Christians we can trust Him to provide us with the wisdom we need to take up meaningful employment for His glory. He will also give us the wisdom we need to create new employment opportunities as the world changes. You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU
- “Coffee and lollies.” Some of the best conversations in life happen around food. At times I try to bless the students with something to eat and drink, especially at the start of the term. This helps to establish a positive classroom atmosphere for the rest of the term.
- “Discussions.” Students love to be given an opportunity to have their say. It can be hard at times to keep discussions on track and discussion lessons usually require careful planning and execution to work well.
- “Relaxed atmosphere.” Christian Living is not an academic class. This was an intentional decision since we don’t want students to compartmentalise what they learn in this class. Our Christian beliefs define who we are and making it an academic pursuit at this point of their personal development can be counter-productive. I try my best to keep conversations and topics positive and emphasise to them that they are allowed to relax a little while they are attending this class. I believe this creates a non-threatening environment that is more productive for having meaningful discussions and dialogue about Christian life topics.
- “Some of the videos we have watched are too long.” I found these comments quite fascinating. I only showed one 15 minute video the whole term. All other videos were around 5 minutes. I have two thoughts about this. It is interesting what this comment may be saying about students’ attention span and how teachers (like me) use video in their instruction. Brain research has shown that older students have an attention span of about 10 minutes. I am reminded that if I use video in the classroom I have to plan to break the video up into shorter segments. This will ensure that I keep their attention and help them process the video content more effectively. With regards to attention span, are our older students’ attention span getting shorter due to the way they interact with media on their devices?
- “We didn’t do much.” I will be first to admit that my course is not content heavy. Most of it is built around four questions we need to ask our technology to help us understand technology’s impact on us. I want to ensure that these questions become part of the students’ thinking, so I take my time covering each one of them. I am of the opinion that we as teachers are sometimes in such a rush to ‘cover content’ that we don’t allow new ideas to take root in our students’ thoughts. I am wondering whether the comment highlighted comes from a perception my students have about learning that they base on the experience they have in their academic classes, i.e. learning equals the convering of lots of content. I may be able to create the perception of a ‘full’ course if I allow them to come up with some of the discussions topics. It may be that the course is not contextualised enough.
- “Reading long articles are boring.” Once again a fascinating comment. In all fairness, when I asked students to read articles in class as background for upcoming discussions, the articles were at most 5 minute reads at their reading level. For the record, I was very intentional about requiring students to read non-fiction articles since most students would be faced with this kind of learning activity when they moved on to tertiary education. I tried to pick interesting articles but it showed that what I might consider interesting was not necessarily what the students considered interesting. I am not sure how to remedy this challenge.
- “The discussion about technology was too negative. It didn’t focus on the positive changes technology is making in society.” I was very intentional about pointing out the negative aspects of technology use. The positive uses of communications technology are often highlighted by the media whereas the negative aspects are neglected – in my opinion. However I agree, that in my effort to help students see the impact of technology on our lives, I have to be careful not to leave them with the perception that technology is bad. I didn’t talk enough about the fact that technology was a creative pursuit and that creativity is rooted in the character of God. As such, it is hardwired into each one of us because Genesis 1:26-27 state ‘Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’
- “Not enough time was given for this class in the schedule.” This class is during the first period on a Monday. The Monday morning assembly often runs long and as a consequence the class is much shorter than other classes. When this happens, I have to adapt lesson plans on the fly and I have to be honest that these adaptions are not always successful. We have also missed a few Mondays due to other activities that Year 12’s need to attend. Since I only see them once a week, this comment from them is justified. I am not sure how to remedy this challenge either.
- “More discussions with for / against arguments.” I hope to include more class-wide discussion topics in future. I will source some ideas from the students too to ensure these discussions are more contextualised. Most of the course’s discussion activities were based around small groups this term.
- One of the students commented that it was nice to talk about technology with technology. I have used Google Apps for Education and Padlet in this course with limited success this year since not all students bring devices to class and the portable computer lab is not always available. I hope to make better use of technology tools next year. This may also provide me with a natural opportunity to talk about the positive aspects of the use of communications technology.
- Not all students have developed an apologetic about the use of technology. Most of them have started this process though. I have to create a better framework for them to develop this apologetic.
Found on flickrcc.net