digital age

Lutheran Education and the Digital Age—Part One

Dave Black The Lutheran Educator 1 Comment

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Imagine you are the manager of a baseball team. A team in your league discovers a new strategy for dealing with stress on pitchers’ arms. The approach is promising in helping to maintain healthy pitchers and, by extension, to create a winning team. Would you be interested in learning more about this approach if you were the manager of another team? Or would you ignore the advance since it was not developed by your club?

If the manager was open to new learning, of course he would embrace the research of the rival club. Similarly, those who care about learning and schools maintain curiosity about what is taking place elsewhere in the realm of education. For me as a Lutheran educator, I don’t just want to learn from other teachers in Lutheran schools, although that is a core professional value of mine. Educators in other systems—public, private, charter, other parochial, and the like—challenge me as well, sharpening my skills as a teacher and, by extension, benefiting my school with new ideas.

To that end, I have read the writing of noted educational futurist Will Richardson for many years. It might be easy for a Lutheran educator to dismiss his work. After all, he comes across as impatient with the current state of education, and there is not anything particularly faith-based about his work. But his provocative insights about education in the United States are worthy of consideration by all teachers, administrators, and those who care about Lutheran schools.

Recently, Richardson crafted a blog post entitled 16 Modern Realities Schools (and Parents) Need to Accept. Now. While Richardson writes to a general audience that does not specifically include Lutheran education, Lutheran school teachers and administrators will benefit from reading through the points made by Richardson and applying these thoughts to their work as educators.

My writing here is the first in a series of four posts that will review Richardson’s content in light of the needs and experiences of Lutheran education. Each post, crafted by different authors on this blog, will focus on some of Richardson’s key theses, sharing responses and insights from a Lutheran perspective. We hope these posts will be both enlightening and provocative as we look outside the Lutheran system for new ideas and apply them to the unique mission of Lutheran schools in pointing students and families to our Savior, Jesus Christ.

To that end, here is the first modern reality Richardson identifies:

The Web and the technologies that drive it are fundamentally changing the way we think about how we can learn and become educated in a globally networked and connected world. It has absolutely exploded our ability to learn on our own in ways that schools weren’t built for.

Responses from a Lutheran Perspective
  • Think about the words “globally networked and connected world.” We are preparing our students to serve in a world of incredible possibilities for sharing God’s love to humanity! How exciting! How can we best leverage this truth in our work with students? That question should be regularly on our minds. If it isn’t, we are missing opportunities for greater faith impact in this world.
  • Because this world is globally connected and networked, there are also challenges for each of us (teachers and students) when navigating responsible usage of technology tools in this digital age. More than that, Lutheran schools have the privilege of advancing the discussion beyond encouraging responsible use of technologies and instead framing the conversations around truly God-pleasing uses of the digital gifts we have been given. How is this happening in your classroom and school? What considerations need to be made to use the digital gifts God has given us to His greater glory in your educational setting?

Here is a second quote from Richardson’s blog post:

In that respect, current systems of schooling are an increasingly significant barrier to progress when it comes to learning.

Response from a Lutheran Perspective
  • OUCH! How can schools be a barrier to learning, one may ask, especially Lutheran schools? This is the type of statement that frustrates many teachers. But is it really that far from the truth? It seems that the key issue with this statement is making sound judgments about what is timely and what is timeless. For instance, the truths of God as revealed by the Bible are timeless, a blessing from an unchanging God who saves us through His mercy. But how often do we apply timelessness to elements of education that are really preferences more than anything else? For instance, is having desks in rows timeless? What about traditional grades? How about grade divisions by age? Are these things truly timeless? Do they exist primarily for our comfort and convenience as teachers? Or do they really support student learning? Full honesty and transparency about what is truly timeless is crucial for Lutheran schools in meeting the needs of twenty-first-century learners, thereby ensuring that school structures do not become a barrier to learning.

Let’s look at a third quote from Richardson:

The middleman is vanishing as peer to peer interactions flourish. Teachers no longer stand between the content and the student. This will change the nature of the profession.

Responses from a Lutheran Perspective
  • I remember working with a very traditional teacher. She was absolutely in charge of her classroom. She had all the information and benevolently shared that information with her students. This teacher was completely flustered when she was leading a unit on the solar system and a student printed out tens of pages of Web content on the various planets. All of a sudden, she was no longer the expert. Students could obtain information. But can they make sense of the data they have obtained? Not always. This reality has already changed the teaching profession, whether we acknowledge this or not.
  • Godly humility as an educator is essential in this digital age. We don’t know everything. We are not always the experts anymore. And it’s okay. We don’t have to be the experts, but we often have a new role: helping with discernment and analysis. We do more coaching and less teaching as experts. There is little that is timeless about the traditional role of a teacher. As a result, constant learning, questioning, and professional discernment provide opportunities for Lutheran teachers, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to move into new roles of influence with the learners we encounter.

And finally we examine this fourth quote:

Technology is no longer an option when it comes to learning at mastery levels.

Responses from a Lutheran Perspective
  • Do you like video games? Many educators believe our students spend too much time with digital content like this at the expense of learning activities. However, have we considered why these games are so compelling? They are engaging because players compete at their own level (personalization!). They are compelling since there are always new challenges to be embraced (is that true in every classroom?). They are appealing due to the immediate feedback they provide (do your classroom values include immediate feedback?).
  • As Christians, we believe that each child is uniquely gifted by God for service in His Kingdom. Yet our classrooms do not always reflect this spiritual reality, treating entire classes as if all students had similar gifts. Technology tools for learning, organization, content delivery, and personalization help tie learning to the spiritual reality of the unique giftedness of each student. How can your classroom or school better embrace digital tools to nurture the gifts of individual students?

Watch this space next Thursday for our next discussion of ideas shared by Will Richardson from a Lutheran education perspective.


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About the Author
Dave Black

Dave Black

Dave Black is the Director of Lights Academy at Lutheran High School in Parker, Colorado. An education veteran of more than 25 years in Lutheran schools, he is passionate about sharing Jesus with students and families every day and in leading innovative learning initiatives that embrace technology tools. You can read his latest posts here.

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Mary Martin

Thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking ideas. I truly appreciate the Christian-perspectives. I too like to gather insights and ideas from many places, but am always challenged to filter through God’s umbrella 🙂