Getting Started with Computers in Christian Education
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by Neil MacQueen
I started teaching with computers in my Sunday School back in 1990 and have since helped thousands of teachers and techies do the same. It’s not uncommon for the “idea” of teaching with computers, and the enthusiasm, to get out ahead of the “how-to”. Time, treasure, and opportunity are too important to waste on getting started the wrong way. The following advice is the result of 20+ years of field testing! …and represents a collective wisdom about “getting started” that should not be overlooked.
In general, we’re suggesting you create a “lab” –which is we loosely define as: “one or more computers used INTENTIONALLY by students under the guidance of a teacher as part of a regular course of study”. We’re not into “game rooms” or unsupervised use.
You can also “show” a lot of our software to your group, navigating through it with student helpers, stopping to ask the questions seen on the screen and following up, getting their help with games and such.
Read the book for more about why and how to get started.
- Why teach with software
- What’s It Like Teaching with Our Software?
- Teachers and Pastors Talk about Their Computer Labs
- Top Ten Most Common Mistakes
- Our Computer Hardware Recommendations
- The Real Cost of Software and Computers
- Teacher Training Pamphlet
- The How-to Book: Teaching with Computers in Christian Education
Getting Started Advice
1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Learn from the mistakes and successes of those who have gone before you. Read the book Teaching with Computers in Christian Education. Using computers in the Sunday School is different than using computers in the public schools. Over the years I’ve saved churches from making purchasing mistakes and wasting hundreds of dollars. Before you start spending serious money or somebody’s time (which has its own cost), read my book.
My book will save you from making mistakes and wasting money (and appearing stupid in front of your volunteers and staff). If you read the book, and then don’t think it was worth the $$, send it back for a full refund. You won’t.
FUN and EXCITEMENT is where you START when you toss kids and computers together. But you want to teach God’s Word and nurture faith.
2. DO AN EXPERIMENT …before running out to buy hardware
We recommend creating a small controlled experiment. An experiment consists of a handful of kids, a teacher who can commit to several Sundays in a row, a GOOD borrowed computer or office computer, and two or three different pieces of software. Let them loose for a month or two. Validate our advice and FIND OUT WHAT IT IS REALLY LIKE to teach with software. Many people are surprised how interactive and relational it is, and that insight alone will confirm our LAYOUT and HARDWARE articles found linked back on the Articles Page.
3. BE SERIOUS ABOUT HARDWARE, NOT WISHFUL
Realize from the start that you need decent multimedia capable Windows-based computers. Getting started with computers that are five years old is OK, but won’t let you experience the best this medium has to offer. Getting started with computer that are more than 6 years old IS NOT WISE. Insisting on having a MAC lab or a TABLETS/iPAD lab may suit your hardware sensibilities, but it will leave your software choices somewhere between “few and far between”. Jump over to our Hardware Recommendations for specific advice on buying or upgrading hardware. Beware those old boat anchors someone dumped at your doorstep.
4. GET THE RIGHT PEOPLE INVOLVED
Find someone who likes to teach and has some technical skills. Do not hand over your lab to a techie who can’t teach. Once the computers are operational, the computer lab becomes a classroom. You will need people who know how to share their faith, ask good questions, create a lesson plan, and know WHEN to shut off the computers –not just HOW. The book has a lot of great material you can copy from it to discuss with your lead teacher.
5. GET THE RIGHT ANSWERS TO COMMON QUESTIONS
How many kids per computer? What kind of computers should I get? Should I network my computers? Can I copy one piece of software to several computers? How do I set up my room? How do I train my teachers? What do I do about a “noisy” lab? —–The answers to these questions are given in detail in our book. Our answers may surprise you. Read the book. It comes spiral bound so you can lay it flat on a copier and copy the pages from it you need to share with others and train teachers.
6. GET YOUR NUMBERS RIGHT
It saddens me to see churches get MORE computers than they need based on false assumptions about how they think the lab will work. Sometimes they get a large donation of good used equipment, and their lab sinks under the weight of expectations and frustration. Read the book and online articles please!
Some Numbers to Remember:
2 to 3 kids per computer; computers that are 6 years old or newer; one copy of the program you want to teach with per computer. Our book discusses each issue in detail.
7. PICK THE RIGHT SOFTWARE TO START WITH
Some programs are easier to learn and easier to teach with your first go-round. Our book has some great advice on this subject. You can also see a list of ‘starter titles’ that most labs will have in their first year. It’s at the end of this article: Why We Teach with Software.
Remember: You teach with the SOFTWARE, not the hardware. Thus, your hardware has to be able to run existing software.
8. DONT’ UNDERESTIMATE the Importance of Correct Set-up and Lab Lay-out
Stacking your computers like cordwood is wrong. Space them out and put up low dividers between them so sound is blocked between them, but teachers can see what’s going on. The book discusses these issues IN DETAIL. Some info can also be found in our online articles.
Good Setup Pictured Right: Dividers reduce the spray of volume coming from speakers, but do not reduce the teacher’s line of vision.
9. HAVE A PLAN OF USE!
The software you choose should depend on what you are scheduled to teach. If you’re dovetailing with an existing curriculum, then match your software to the stories you need to cover. You can also create a lab which follows its OWN schedule… perhaps teaching major Bible stories only. Creating a schedule is one of the most important things you can do to guide your lab’s development.
10. ASK FOR HELP!
I’ve been teaching with software in Sunday School since 1990 and stand ready to share not only my experience, but that of the thousands of churches who have gone before you teaching with with software in a myriad of ways. I’m a techie, so I can talk hardware. I’m a Presbyterian minister with a background in C.E. and Youth ministry, so we can talk about teaching and your curriculum. Christian software development and support is now my full-time validated ministry, so I am available as much as you need!
Sunday Software firstname.lastname@example.org