Now there is a provocative title for a blog! But it’s probably not what you think. This past spring I attended a faculty development seminar at Biola University led by José Bowen, author of the book, Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2012). The main thrust of his sessions with us, and of his book, is that with information being so readily available through mass technology, we need to leverage that technology to maximize classroom interaction with students, shifting our roles from presenters of information (which students can get more readily online) to coaches who help students process that information, promoting deeper learning, critical thinking, and application of knowledge to life situations. As I reflected on Bowen’s ideas, I think we may need to start “teaching naked” in the church. Let me tell you what I mean.
Two Challenges I See in Our Teaching Ministries
Limited Time and Shallow Teaching: I have voiced concern in previous blogs that with limited time together, our Bible teaching at church can be pretty shallow, leading to limited retention and application. In addition, our teaching approaches tend to provide little follow through to reinforce the application of learning over time. Most of our time is spent introducing and trying to understand the biblical content, and we typically run out of time for meaningful interaction about implications, challenges, and personal response to what we have learned. We “teach the content,” but do a poor job of “teaching learners.” Unfortunately, one thing this can lead to is a sense that the church is a place to learn the “right answers,” not wrestle with the right questions. This can inadvertently lead to indoctrination, with people passively receiving “the truth” from their teachers instead of prayerfully and critically thinking through the meaning of the Scripture, implications of what it says, and appropriating it in our own lives as we “test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2b, NIV).
Sporadic Participation and Disconnected Learning: Another challenge we face is sporadic attendance in the teaching ministries we offer, leading to lower senses of continuity, connection, commitment to, and involvement in the Bible study over time. If everyone came every week, we could build over time on what we are learning together. However, sporadic attendance leads to disjointed learning. There typically is no good way for students to catch up on what was missed when they were gone. This in turn can lower motivation to attend. “I’ve been away for two weeks, I’ve missed too much to jump back into it now.”
Three Ideas from “Teaching Naked” that May Help Deepen Our Teaching Impact
I want to introduce you to three ideas from Bowen about how using technology can strengthen the impact of teaching, and apply them to the teaching we do within our church ministries. In this blog I’ll introduce these ideas with some quotes from Bowen. In blogs over the next few months I’ll unpack these ideas and explore ways his ideas might be implemented within our teaching ministries. Here are a few quotes that capture Bowen’s ideas to get you started thinking. Take some time to read through them, and then consider what is happening in your teaching ministry and how implementing these ideas in some way might be helpful to promote deeper impact in the lives of those you teach.
Idea 1: Use technology to provide content before the group meets, preparing them for active learning together:
At the heart of Teaching Naked is the seeming paradox that technology can be harnessed to enhance the widely desired goals of increased student engagement and faculty-student interaction but that it is most powerfully used outside of class as a way to increase naked, nontechnological interaction with students inside the classroom. (p. x)
Technology, largely used outside the classroom to deliver content, can be an important tool to prepare students for classroom discussions and to increase the class time available for those discussions and other active learning … but it will require some curricular and structural changes to make this happen. (p. 21)
Starting with a strategy that uses technology to prepare students before class will fundamentally change the way you think about what is possible in class. (p. 127)
(So, how might technology be used to prepare those we teach for our time together? How would it change what we try to do in the group?)
Idea 2: Focus your class time on interacting with and applying what we learn:
Delivering content alone has virtually no effect on students’ beliefs about the world. Students can memorize data that conflict with their beliefs, but without active engagement with the new material, in the form of discussions, writing, debates, projects, and hands-on application, they do not really confront the implications of the new content. (p. 92)
We need to adjust our classrooms to focus less on content and more on application of material to new contexts, development of intellectual curiosity, investment in the material, evaluation, synthesis, challenging personal beliefs, development of higher level cognitive processing, oral and written communication skills, construction and negotiation of meaning, information literacy, connection of information across disciplines, teamwork, and reflection on the significance of content. (p. 21)
Nothing has more potential to eliminate boredom and create an incentive for students to come to class than a complete rethinking of the use of class time, overhauling it from a passive listening experience into a transformative learning environment. (p. 185)
(How is time being used in the group you teach? How active is the learning experience? Is there time for reflection and application? How could time together be refocused for deeper learning?)
Idea 3: Using technology to build community that promotes applying what we learn:
By repeatedly connecting to students outside of the classroom and reminding them of classroom material while they are in the real world, you can help them apply their knowledge … You can use your messages or tweets to connect with your students in real time as things happen. (p. 136)
Creating a discussion board for your class, for example, is an easy way for your students constantly to reengage with material and concepts while they are away from your classroom. It also makes them a community of learners and allows them to model for each other how to study and solve problems. (p. 141)
(How could we use technology to follow up on, reinforce, and extend the learning that starts when we are together? How can technology help us grow a stronger learning community?)
These are challenging ideas, and my first impulse is to say that it won’t work in the church. However, I think the reality is that what we are doing now is not working as well as we would like it to, and it is worth considering some radical revision in how we prepare those we teach for our time together, how we use our time when we are together, and how we follow up on what we have been learning to encourage application in our lives. I’ll take each of these ideas from Bowen and develop them further in the next few blogs I write. I invite you to consider these ideas with me, and let me know your thoughts on what we might do differently to strengthen our teaching ministries in the church.