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Devices, Teachers, and Students: How Are Our Choices Shaped?

Talking about technology in schools seems to come with a built-in temptation toward arguing about big threats and promises. Digital devices will connect our students to the world, transform learning, break down the walls of the school, and unleash student creativity! Digital devices will isolate our students, make them shallow, weaken their thinking skills, and overwhelm them with distractions! How many of us have read or participated in such debates and gone on to make specific changes in our own technology behaviors as a result? The risk of paying attention only to the big picture is that it lets the day-to-day slide by unnoticed.

I propose we start by listening carefully to some students.

In our research on digital technology use in Christian schools, we did not set out to decide the “hurrah technology!”/ “down with technology!” debate one way or the other, nor did we end up doing so. We simply set out to understand more clearly what is happening and how teachers are responding to it. In this article, I will zoom in on one very concrete and specific detail to see where it leads us as we think about how technology affects teaching and learning. I propose we start by listening carefully to some students.

Student Voices

As we discussed technology, time management, and distraction with high school students in one Christian school, a student made the following observation:

We’ll ask [our teachers], “Can we just skim through for the answers,” and they’ll say, “No, I actually want you to read it.” And . . . one of my teachers did that, and I diligently read it and took notes . . . because I just do that. And I know a lot of people did because he actually emphasized that it’s important to read it, whereas most teachers I get, I kind of skim it and look for the answers.

Another student added, “In other [classes] they just say, ‘Here’s your reading assignment and then fill out the worksheet,’ and it is easy to just do Apple-F and find where the answers are to each of the questions.” The first student reflected, “I think using technology like Command-F can make us more lazy.”

Let’s slow right down and take a closer look at what seems to be going on in this confession.

This is an abridged version of this article. To read more, subscribe to the print edition of Christian Educators Journal.

David I. Smith is professor of education and director of the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also serves as coordinator of the Institute for Global Faculty Development and editor of the International Journal of Christianity and Education. His writing and talks can be accessed at www.onchristianteaching.com, and he can be followed at https://www.facebook.com/onchristianteaching.