Theology students reflect on technology

By Matt Bolch for Emory Report

Interpreting the Bible requires reflection, a trait that many young people have not developed in an age of electronic distractions.

Steven Kraftchick explored this phenomenon with students this fall during the introductory seminar class for the Master of Theological Studies program at the Candler School of Theology. Kraftchick, associate professor of interpretation of the New Testament, says that biblical theology necessitates processing information internally, supplementing biblical text with readings of philosophers and theologians to arrive at an interpretation shaped by reflection and experience.

“The average person spends less than 40 seconds on any given Web page,” Kraftchick says. “In biblical theology, you have to spend more time than that to derive any meaning from the text.”

Discussion of issues around technology in general and social media in particular was woven throughout the course, including discourse on whether technology makes users stupider or smarter, the differences between blogging and response papers and privacy issues on Facebook.

Kraftchick set up a private blog where students wrote blogs related to classroom discussions. They also wrote formal response papers, comparing and contrasting the two.

“Blogs tend to be more free-flowing,” Kraftchick says, “while response papers are more formal. They learned what constitutes good writing in each media.”

Students also read perspectives for and against technology from philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Marshall McLuhan and contemporary writers such as Matt Richtel of The New York Times and Nicholas Carr, whose 2008 article in The Atlantic titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brain,” provided the spark for Kraftchick to explore how students learn.

Today’s traditional students have grown up in a world where the Internet and multimedia devices are ubiquitous and information can be found with great speed. Slow the process down in a classroom setting where students read physical texts, and those generational differences become clear.

“This tradition requires reflection,” Kraftchick says of theology. “But we’re in a culture where media is moving away from that notion.”

Consider the lowly library card catalog. While it can be time-consuming to look up a text and then search for the appropriate volume in the stacks, the process often led to related topics and tomes the researcher had not thought of, bringing new richness to the research.

“The positives of technology are that it is accessible and speedy, but like fast food, the calories you get may not be the best,” Kraftchick says. “Technology is not benign. It shapes how we think, feel and believe, which can be positive or negative.”

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