Kick the Sage off the Stage!

This post is a bPortfolio reflection for chapter one of How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.

In the first chapters of Clayton Christensen’s book, How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (2010), he introduces multiple intelligences theory, educates the difference between modular and interdependent learning environments, and argues for a student-centric learning. Christensen’s work requires me to wrestle with how I teach others about technology, whether through a class, extensive student workers training, or drop-in appointment, also requires me to wonder how churches disseminate information to the congregation, be that sermons or class on Sundays or Wednesdays.

I remember learning about Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in college. (Christensen, 2010, l. 595-596). In a teaching methods course we learned how individuals best retain knowledge and how, as church leaders, we can adapt our lessons to meet the learning styles of others. I never had the intention of using what I learned in a regular K-12 or higher education classroom, but envisioned how this new knowledge of learning would impact a youth group or parish. Today, as I mingle between higher education and church, I reflect on how Christensen’s content can impact the teaching and learning process of both environments.

As the library technology services coordinator at Seattle Pacific University I teach students, staff, and other library patrons how to effectively and efficiently use a wide range of technology tools. The teaching content ranges from the basics in Word and advanced video tools in iMovie. I also recognize a wide range of learning styles (students who know very little about movie creation, staff who are proficient in Word, but struggle with file structures in Windows). Christensen’s reflection on Gardner’s multiple intelligences really calls me out in how I spend time teaching a wide range of users to understand and use technology tools well. I especially think how I can collect multiple intelligence information from my student workers and then work with them individually. This individual work represents a student-centric modular approach of teaching that Christensen presents.

I’ve only completed four credits in the M.Div. program, however I have experience in churches and church plants. I am really interested in the relationship between technology and theology and the resulting impact on the Church. My experiences of the teaching and learning process in churches mirrors schools Christensen discusses. The content is different, yet the style doesn’t change. I really resonate with moving toward a student-centric teaching and learning style for worship teaching and various classes that are separate from the congregational worship time (Christensen, 2010, l. 798). The 21st Century ushers in a new way to teach and learn. The rapid advancements of technology, changing every month, provide opportunities for better learning environments. I deeply resonate with Christensen’s statement, “teachers can serve as professional learning coaches and content architects to help individual students progress—and they can be a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage (Christensen, 2010, l. 808-809). The “sage on the stage” is the pastor (or other teacher) every Sunday morning disseminating information without any regard for the multiple intelligences present in the congregation. It is a disconnected learning experience.

I am not entirely sure what it would look like for churches to change their central teaching time, but I know a first step should be researching what multiple intelligences are present. Secondly, I love the vision of pastors and other church leaders stepping off their figurative pulpit and coming alongside parishioners as coaches. A job title that says “I am in it with you and we are going to learn together.”

As a technology teacher, theologian, and possible future pastor I desire to pause and listen. At the core of Christensen’s first chapter is the idea of listening. Understanding what is going on in their life (students are not just tasks to complete, but people); knowing how the student learns (multiple intelligences), and what their motivations are imperative (Christensen, 2010, l. 350). These attributes mesh well with teacher or pastor as coach; a worthy and needed position that doesn’t require me to be the “sage on the stage”.

Below is a screenshot from Amazon’s Kindle app for OS X. This week I read most of the book on the computer. I chose the computer over my iPad for a couple of reasons. First, it was easier to annotate. I like to “write in the margins” so having a physical keyboard doesn’t hinder me as does a virtual glass keyboard. The second reason I preferred the OS X option is because the sun was out a lot and I wanted to be outside to read. The glare on an iPad is significant, as it is with a MacBook Pro, however, I am able to easily adjust the lid of the computer to deter glare. Overall I usually always prefer reading on a digital device, and that was especially true for reading this week.

Christensen, Clayton., Michael Horn., & Curtis Johnson. (2010). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. (2nd ed.). n.p. McGraw-Hill. Kindle Edition.

  8 comments for “Kick the Sage off the Stage!

  1. July 9, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Hey Ryan,

    I was really impressed by how you were able to tweak the information from the reading a little so it applies to your own roles and experiences. I think that you’re right that a pastor is often the “sage on the stage.” Looking back over my experiences in the church, I have difficulty pointing to any that were anything but the pastor looking out and disseminating information that they deemed important. Until your post, I had never even questioned whether this was best. I love thinking about the members of the congregation as students who could be empowered in their own learning. I know that this is often done through study groups, but I like thinking of it on the greater scale as well.

    As I was reading about your experiences working with students in the library and multiple intelligences, I wondered if there are types of intelligences that lend themselves to learning about technology. It seems likely that a person that is high in logical-mathematical intelligence may have an easier time learning new programs than one whose strengths lie in, say, musical intelligence. There’s a part of me that wonders if this type of understanding of new technological tools may even fall under a different kind of intelligence. Because knowing how to use technological tools effectively and flexibly is a necessity, I’m curious how we can help those for whom it doesn’t come as easily.

  2. Ryan Ingersoll
    July 10, 2012 at 5:03 am

    Thanks for your comment!

    I think a lot of pastors, and churches, who be upset at me for my ideas of removing the pastor from the pulpit. Tradition often wins in churches. However, with so many young adults not in the church any longer it really begs the question, “are we doing it the best.” Off that soapbox for now…I could go on and on.

    You bring up such an interesting question about a “technology intelligence” of sorts! I might have to dig into that. Personally, I think very logical, but not mathematically. I use metaphors and analogies most of the time when trying to explain complex technological solutions to people who struggle to understand (or don’t have the time).

  3. Paul Gossman
    July 10, 2012 at 7:34 am

    Ryan, the only pastor worth his “salt” in the pulpit on Sunday morning is the one who is, during the rest of the week, out of the pulpit doing the interactive listening (lots of listening!) and coaching with the wide variety of “intelligences” represented in his hearers. Effective teaching, coaching, ministry – call it what you like – is not simply momentary, such as appears a Sunday morning sermon, but relational, reflective, responsive, and ongoing. (A pastor, IF a “sage,” wasn’t made that way on a stage.) Sound theology, and sound preaching, embrace the daily reality and variety of people, and that is why preachers who live out their ministry in such ways often hear their listeners, with all their varied intelligences, saying, “wow, it was like that was intended just for me.” They are able to genuinely connect with people from the “pulpit” because they’ve first and regularly done that over coffee, in living rooms, on softball fields, in hospital rooms, or even on facebook or a blog! Where technology can assist in such Spirit-guided endeavors, praise God, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.

    • Ryan Ingersoll
      July 10, 2012 at 9:36 pm

      Hey Paul! Thanks for your thoughtful response. I am in total agreement that meaningful relationships with parishioners (and others outside the congregation) are essential to the role of the pastor.

      My concern is that the sermon becomes central, rather than Sunday becoming a place for authentic Christian community. I am interested in worship providing space to be in the midst of God’s Word in various ways that speak to a wide variety of multiple intelligences and not just a time for an inspirational message spoken with PowerPoint slides.

  4. July 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Ryan, while I appreciate we can do better, much better at improving learning a number of thoughts come to mind when I hear a slogan like kick the sage off the stage. First I agree with Paul, the Pastor’s role in the church community is much more than preaching on Sundays. The Pastor is already the guide on the side. But also 1. church on Sunday morning is not all about learning, in fact little of it is, it is coming together as a community to hear God’s word a message for us a community a word to remind us of sin and the grace for that sin that God extends to us both as individuals but just as importantly as a community together where corporately we may need to repent. 2. when I have heard the expression used in connection with some of my wife’s teaching, the effect was to remove the sage altogether. We need teachers and mentors simply because they have more learning and experience. There are many churches led by lay preachers so professionalism is not the point but a gifting of God through experience or education into the word of God is necessary. However, and here I would agree with some of your sentiments, churches need to get better at connecting Sunday and Monday. Educational philosophy is seemingly more full of fads than any other field it seems to me – I remember when grammar wasn’t important because it was merely expression and we were becoming a visual culture. Instead we have become visual and audio and text based. Anyway, it is tricky to work out what is of lasting value in some of these ideas.

    • Ryan Ingersoll
      July 10, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks for your comments Brian! Good to “see” you again!

      Maybe my title was more for shock value and not the case at all churches.

      As I replied to Paul, my concern is that the sermon becomes central, rather than Sunday becoming a place for authentic Christian community. I am interested in worship providing space to be in the midst of God’s Word in various ways that speak to a wide variety of multiple intelligences and not just a time for an inspirational message spoken with PowerPoint slides.

      This is why I tend to see great value in what happens in the anglican or catholic tradition. Multi sensory with short homilies, incense, icons, sitting down, kneeling, standing up. These traditions can draw people in of all ages and with different styles of learning (or staying engaged). However, the fear is they become rote.

      The big question, and we all have vastly different ideas, then is what is the goal or point of Sunday worship? It is all different for sure!

      • Paul Gossman
        July 11, 2012 at 8:23 am

        Ryan, your reply to Brian is very close to what I was about to write in response to your reply to my comments. Bold and effective proclamation of the Word need not be diminished, but a Sunday morning service that incorporates liturgical and sacramental elements goes a long way in communicating that Word in other ways. Add to that things like children’s messages, dramatic sketches, video clips, and a preaching format that includes some dialogue with listeners and I think you’re going a long way in reaching multiple intelligences. Of course, a good hour of Sunday morning Bible classes and small groups added to the worship service will also help accomplish that.

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