Teacher’s Toys

Many lecturers today powerpoint their subjects to an early grave. They then shovel in a few podcasts, You Tube video clips, websites, an interactive CD or two and press the earth down with the module’s Facebook page.

What is wrong with the use of modern technology in teaching? Nothing at all, of course but, if we imagine that the use of the technology is good teaching itself and that, if we use it, we are good teachers, it is a disaster. Technology can add 10 to 20% to the teaching experience, It can subtract 80% if relied on to do the job. After all, good teaching had been around for a few thousand years before Bill Gates founded Microsoft.

This is now beginning to be widely understood. As the enthusiasm for the new tools dies down, articles are appearing distinguishing them from good teaching. We are now clearer that they will not make bad teaching good, that they will make good teaching a little better and that they are in danger of drowning good teaching in our classrooms.

What is a lecture? I am sure we can agree that it is not primarily information transfer. That can be done more effectively in other ways. And we are all happily beyond the “schooling” approach to theology, or any other subject, where the students collect the information in lectures and return it to us in the exams. We must also agree that it is not a performance. There is drama. We are, in a way, actors in front of an audience, but this is very much a sub-plot in the process. Yet some lecturers so load the lecture with dramatic graphics and sounds that the students are mostly entertained.

A good lecture is a giving of yourself – and your relationship with the subject – to your students. Then, as they trust your reality, they form a bond with the ideas – and hopefully, a deeper bond with your God. I remember a lecture we received once from a university teaching unit on how to give a good lecture. The lecturer used all the tools – sound clips, videos, flashing powerpoint slides rushing in from the right and the left. She had come to help us be better technicians but she did not sit on the edge of the desk, talk face to face, eye to eye, about what was in her heart.

Our job in the classroom is to build relationships – between us and the students, the students and the subject and the students and God himself. It is to inspire, provoke, argue, share yourself, lead them up the garden path and then show them the safe way back, get them to love as you love. My best classes have generally been sitting round a table and a subject with students. My best moments have been when a student says “Yes, but..” or when a smile appears on a student’s face because he or she has suddenly connected with me and the issue before us.

That is teaching, with or without the toys. It happened quite a lot in Galilee.

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