[Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted from PIVOT: New Directions for Christian Education, a recent book on challenges, trends, and insights on the future of Christian schools.]
Consider this: you live in a small town with many local roads. They are adequate for a time, but the population has reached the point of needing a highway system. The local officials, wanting to “keep up,” decide to build a network of highways to open up new ways of commuting. But instead of doing their due diligence to ensure the highways are designed to make travel more effective, they just start placing highways randomly.
Would this solve the problem? Maybe you would solve some of the problems randomly, but not likely. What kinds of problems do building roads without planning create? Traffic jams, accidents, extended commute times? We can agree that placing highways randomly would be an irresponsible way to approach roadway planning. And yet, have we taken this approach to technology in schools?
The Need for a Philosophy
Assuming we recognize the need for technology in our schools, we must start thinking about a “philosophy of technology.” Knowing what questions to ask when implementing a technology program in our schools is crucial. The way we choose to engage with technology in our schools might differ from how our neighbor chooses to do so—and that’s ok! Each school has its own unique needs and challenges to take into consideration.
Let’s start off with the “philosophy of technology.” Think of this as a school’s mission statement for the use of technology, which should answer the following questions: Why are we using technology? What kind of technology do we need? How does it tie into the overall mission and vision of our school? While technology is a wonderful servant, it can be a terrible master. Technology is an effective tool that can aid in teaching and learning. But similar to the example of planning new roadways for a city, if we do not have a clear mission and vision for technology, it can – and most likely will – be used in inappropriate or counterproductive ways. Schools must determine where technology will be used to advance the overall mission and where it will not.
Moving from Philosophy to Implementation
Once the school has determined its technology philosophy, there are a few cornerstone questions should be asked about implementing technology. The questions will vary based on what technology is chosen for the school and how it will be used. As a starting point, schools can ask the following four questions:
1. How will this technology empower our students to take control of their own learning? You might have noticed that more families have chosen to homeschool their students lately and one of the primary reasons is the ability to customize a student’s learning. By integrating new technologies, a school can offer students the ability to learn in new ways and broaden the school’s curriculum with classes online that are not offered on campus.
2. Who is responsible for providing the technology? These days, smartphones, tablets, and laptops are accessible to nearly every student. Determining whether the school or the student will supply the technology is important. There are challenges on both sides. If the school provides tablets, there is a major cost, but the school retains the ability to monitor activity more easily. If the students provide the tablets, the cost is removed from the school, but providing accountability can be a nightmare. Both are reasonable options, but the school must decide which works best.
3. How much personal technology will the school allow students to use – and when they can use it? Some schools require students to turn off (or turn in) their smartphones during the school day except for pre-designated short periods of time. Others deal with the distraction issues in different ways. Whatever the policy, it must be clearly understood and enforced. Helping students understand the spiritual and social challenges of personal technology is an important part of their education. A good resource is Dr. Kathy Koch (2015), who has written helpful books on teens and technology, most notably the excellent Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World. Another is The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, by Andy Crouch (2017), whose practical recommendations for families can be carried over into the school.
4. Is the proper support is in place for integrating technology? It is vital that before bringing in any new technology, such supports need to exist. Technology fails, security is breached, or an unanticipated problems arise. Adequate support must exist on the back end to address each scenario. This is both a personnel and a funding issue to be decided when as the school develops its philosophy.
The most helpful suggestion is for each school to gather as much information as possible, particularly from other schools trying to optimize their use of technology and guide their students to use it in a Christ-centered way. Sharing best practices and strategies will help students get the most from technology and overcome the challenges inherent in its constant presence. These commitments are critical for schools to equip students for living in this cultural moment for the glory of God.
Crouch, A. 2017. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Koch, K. 2015. Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World. Chicago: Moody Press.
About the Author
Dhugie Adams worked as a firefighter and EMT after high school. His desire for authentic, meaningful discipleship brought him to Axis in 2014, where he traveled around North America speaking to students, teachers, and parents. Dhugie now lives fulltime in Colorado Springs, working as the Senior Director of Live Experience at Axis. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org