Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Technology or Community?

I was taking another look at Bob Pletka's Educating the Net Generation: How to Engage Students in the 21st Century. It's a book I've found to be helpful. What struck me this time was his highlighting the isolation of the classroom. In it he says: "While members of the Net Generation may have greater opportunities for connecting to community and friends through their ubiquitous access to communication technologies outside of class, their experience of isolated classroom learning starkly contrasts their typically connected life and may exacerbate feelings of alienation and separation" (Pletka 2007, 19). What he says is that while not in the classroom, members of the Net Generation, our high school students, live continually connected to others through the pervasive presence of technology. However this changes in the classroom where they are disconnected. It is possible that this detachment deepens their sense of estrangement. In Educating the New Generation, Pletka is concerned about the dropout rate in high school and the way in which many students are disengaging from studies even while being physically present. He critiques an increasing teacher-centered, lecture style approach and calls for greater student-centered learning that is relevant with collaboration and the use of technology. This is not technology as an unnatural extra but as part of the core curriculum, responsive to our increasingly collaborative environment. An increase that is accelerated by our technology.

This reminds me of a recent conversation with a couple middle school students. Their school was using software that was complete with chat features. However, it was being used for homework. It wasn't essential to learning in the classroom. The students couldn't see its relevance and there was some resentment that some teachers would require that this program be used for homework. Given the option, these students chose not to use it.

Using technology in youth ministry, as in classrooms, is tricky. The technology needs to be current, relevant and well-integrated into the program. If not, it is better not to attempt to use it. However, there is something else in the quotation from Pletka: Community.

As mentioned in a previous post, we often encourage our students to take a break from technology to experience fuller face-to-face community. However, what I am reminded of as I read this book is our need to be intentional in ensuring that with or without technology, each student experiences a sense of belonging that comes from being loved, nurtured, and attended to in an environment that honors her or him as God's unique creation created to be in community with others. Therefore, we are mindful of our students in our preparation. As we plan, we call to mind their faces, hear their voices, think of their situations, strengths, and weaknesses so that our lesson/activity, with or without technology, is relevant, God-honoring, and collaborative. This should not be hard for us to grasp. After all, God said, "Let us . . . ." Moreover, in Philippians 2:3-4 we read, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others."

How do you ensure relevancy and collaboration? How do you avoid "alienation?"
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

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