Thursday, July 4, 2013

Revisiting electronic scriptures

Some time ago, MMM did a great post on electronic vs paper scriptures and I joined in the discussion, as well. I’ve had some subsequent thoughts, particularly after the recent Leadership Broadcast on missionary work in which Elder Perry announced a significant increase in electronic media use by missionaries in the future.

The topic came up in a seminary teacher’s training meeting I attended last weekend, and our CES coordinator indicated that there is no policy on electronic scripture use in the seminary classroom. It’s up to individual teachers to decide how to use them (or whether to use them at all).

Here are some thoughts that came up in the discussion we had, and some of my own thoughts, as well:

  1. Most young people in the United States are going to encounter electronic scriptures at one time or another. And they will learn how to use them whether we teach them how in church or not. They are just smart that way. Those scriptures may be on a Kindle or a smart phone or an iPad or a laptop, but they’re going to run into them. They may use them for personal study, in church (because the electronic gadget is easier to carry than the scripture block), in family study or somewhere else. But most will learn at least how to access the scriptures. 
  2. There is value in teaching young people the best way to use the tools at their disposal. Although they may stumble upon the features of whatever scripture app they have, there’s some value in showing them all it can do. I don’t know that seminary is the place to do that. Maybe it’s better taught at home in FHE or in Sunday School or somewhere else. 
  3. Young people will sometime need to learn how to use their electronic devices for scripture study without being distracted by other things on the electronic device. There’s little doubt that initially they will be tempted to do all sorts of things with a hand-held device: text, play games, surf the net, etc., when they should be reading the scriptures. In that way they are no different from me! And part of that maturing process is learning to control the urge to surf when they should be studying. In the end, it will be tough to force someone to learn that lesson, and yet they will still need to learn. 
  4. Even though missionaries will use electronic media, there is still a place for paper scriptures. Some may be “old school” enough to want to study from them for the same reason some of the oldsters I know want to: the feel of paper on skin is important to them; marking them is easy; seeing the notes made while marking is easy; seeing where a verse is on the page is important in remembering it, its context and its placement in the book. (Just because calculators are ubiquitous, we still teach kids to add, after all!) 
  5. Even if missionaries use electronic tools, they’re still likely to teach from paper scriptures. I imagine we’ll still be giving away paper copies of the Book of Mormon for years to come, and there’s some value in a missionary’s knowing his or her way around it. Even if missionaries have some version of an iPad with videos and other media for teaching, it’s easy to imagine they’ll also use paper scriptures when teaching. And missionaries who serve in outlying areas without easy high-speed connections or without easy re-charging facilities will benefit from paper “back-up” scriptures.
We had some teachers in the four-stake training that have their kids use electronic scriptures regularly. And we have others who have them check them at the door. The class I team taught this past quarter was all paper (except me; I taught with my electronic version).
We have a new mission president in our mission and he is a former CES employee. He was finishing a zone conference in the same building as our training, and at the request of our coordinator, the new mission president stopped by with his wife to say hello. He had time for one question, and a sister asked about electronic vs. paper scriptures. His answer was interesting. It was off-the-cuff, so I doubt he was trying to make or state firm policy, but here’s what he said:
Yes, missionaries will have some electronic tools in the future – some device loaded with videos and other media for use in teaching. But he assumed they would still use their paper scriptures when teaching the lessons.
He also shared that at the mission president’s seminar he’d just left the final speaker was Elder Hales, who recommended that all 173 mission presidents and their wives buy a new set of scriptures for use on their missions. This is not the first I’ve heard of a general authority giving that advice. He said he still brought with him his old beloved scriptures (and since he’s a CES employee, I assume they’ve been well used in teaching for quite some time), but that he and his wife each have a new set, following apostolic counsel. His wife pointed out that Elder Hales was not the only one who spoke of the value of getting new scriptures in their training.
In the youth Sunday School class I taught last Sunday (the day after my seminary training), some of the youth used electronic devices and some used paper scriptures, and some had both. As it happened, I had them use their hand-held devices to look up some definitions for our lesson, and we talked about features of the paper and the electronic scriptures as part of our lesson. It’s easy for me to be ambivalent in Sunday School since I am not their regular teacher.
Our ward’s seminary has a tradition of paper scriptures, and I don’t think I’ll do anything to change that. As for me, I think I’ll buy a new paper Book of Mormon for lesson preparation this year.

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