Technologizing Sunday School Study

“This study guide is designed as a companion to your study of the Book of Mormon. It is divided into numbered sections that correspond with the lessons in the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine course. Each section provides the week’s reading assignment and questions to enhance your study. You may use these questions to improve personal application of the scriptures and to prepare to make meaningful contributions to class discussions.

“You share with your Gospel Doctrine teacher the responsibility to help the class be successful. The Lord has said that teachers need to “preach … by the Spirit of truth” and that those who receive “the word of truth” should “receive it by the Spirit of truth” (D&C 50:17, 19). Come to class prepared to contribute insights, ask questions, share appropriate experiences, bear testimony, and listen attentively to the teacher and the other class members. When you have studied the reading assignments and pondered the questions in this study guide, you will be better prepared to experience the fulfillment of the Lord’s words when He said, “He that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22).”

I only half listened to the Gospel Doctrine teacher as she read this from the Book of Mormon Class Member Study Guide on Sunday, so engrossed was I in preparing my notes (via mobile phone and tablet, both which sat on my lap)  gathered from the Bloggernacle and

I perked up however, when I heard her admonishing the class that Sunday School was not a place for contention, not a place for controversy or inappropriate questions. I shrugged it off and tingled with excitement over raising my hand to impart all the amazing insights I had ready at my fingertips.

I don’t know if you know this, but Sunday School study is changing. More and more people (especially, it seemed, this first Sunday after Christmas) have internet access, sitting with their slim devices that take just a swipe to turn the page. I love it. I love having Kevin Barney, Julie M. Smith, Joe Spencer, James Falcouner, Ardis E. Parshall, William Hamblin, among many others, all virtually sitting next to me enriching my spiritual education. And I love the power of Google search that lets me peruse the pages of Dialogue and other online entities. But then again I thrive on intellectual discussion and insightful questions, where I can just feel the spirit buzzing inside.

Not everyone does. So what does it mean for those who, unlike me, are more apt to feel whispers of the spirit through pure scripture reading, “appropriate” shared experiences, and/or fervent bearing of testimony?  I appreciate that the manual seems to take into account the many different kinds of student, but again, is it ready for the onslaught of accessible online commentaries and clarifications?

I don’t know. I’ve heard (rumor, I know) some wards and stakes banning electronic devices, at least in sacrament meeting. What does that mean? That they believe the spirit cannot ride virtual waves? I disagree, but as always, know that caution is warranted.

So what has been your experience in your Sunday School classes with the growing use of technology? (And in asking that, I realize that most BCC readers are on the forefront of using technology by their very presence).

*Note: in telling my Sunday School adventures to my husband later that night, I mentioned how the teacher used the introduction as a springboard to remind us all to “resolve to be better Sunday School students” and not let it be a place of contention. As I spoke, it dawned on me that she had likely done it just for me. This might be prideful, but I seem to be one that brings up many of the intriguing and mind-bending questions with, as mentioned above, the help of Bloggernacle brains greater than my own. I have to give it to the teacher that it took me all day to realize that her admonishment may have been directed at me, so carefully did she word it using the manual introduction. I find my questions tame and interesting, but every now and again, I get a bit heated when a teacher bring up things like Ephesians 5:22 to use as a defense for The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Regardless, even if her reprimand was not directed at me, it was a nice reminder for me to be more careful of the many different personalities/testimonies in the classroom and to always try to be loving in my discussion. Since my “tame” might just well be another’s “what the heck!?!”


  1. How wonderful it would be if everyone in every class, teachers and students, took it as their first responsibility to help build faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If this were first in everyone’s heart and mind, then everything else would fall into place.

  2. Em, I think you are doing it right. You are approaching the lesson thoughtfully and are actually thinking about the other people in the class. You are an active member of the body of Christ and consequently get to participate, unless of course you are annoying, but I don’t think you are.

    Every once in a while, I’ll do a search for a particular quote I once heard, but I rarely read online during the lesson. Before or after is a different story. I think it makes us all better to have more information and perspectives available.

  3. Our ward and stake on the Eastside of Seattle has been pretty friendly to the use of technology, making the WEP key for wireless access readily available to those who want to access the internet during the block. My wife and I both have Nook Color tablets, and we seen an increasing number of tablets and smartphone users in all meetings. I still use my regular scriptures from time to time at home, but almost never bring them to church meetings anymore.

    We did have one interesting nod to the use of new technology. One of our high council members up until a few months ago used to make an issue of his preference for “non-streaming media artifacts” (ie, traditional scriptures) in church meetings. That finally changed when once during a HC meeting, he asked everyone to open their bound scriptures, and realized that out of 15 or 16 people in the room, he was the only one without an iPad, ereader, or smartphone. He now brings an iPad to church.

  4. Love the bit with the ipad showing BCC. Great idea!

  5. …I do not, however, know anything about JW Sunday Schools like those in the image associated with the original post.

  6. Elder L. Tom Perry read a scripture over the pulpit recently at a funeral from his smartphone. So I can’t see a universal ban coming from the top down.

  7. At least 1/3 of our Sunday School class was using some sort of electronic device for scriptures this past Sunday. And our ward is pretty…rural. (You can bring your smartphones and Kindle Fires and iPads, but don’t expect an internet signal to be available).

  8. Julie M. Smith says:

    As a teacher, I try to help my students use their devices for good instead of evil by having something they can look up–whether it is a piece of artwork that we can talk about, or a fragment of the earliest extant NT text, or a talk by Elder Holland, to use recent example.

  9. I used my phone all the time last year to chase down greek words in the NT or to look at alternate translations. I also am the guy that brings powerpoint presentations when I teach. It’s just who I am.

    On the flip side, texting and playing games during the lesson is tacky and annoying. I had a guy who would perpetually be playing some game on his tablet in EQ when I taught. I never called him on it, but it was pretty disappointing.

  10. .

    How can they be banning them if they’re adding wireless routers to our buildings? It’s the little flashing light now placed under the clock.

  11. Matt W,
    If students will play games and ignore the teacher during college classes that they (or somebody) pays for, why wouldn’t they during a class that is treated as an afterthought by our church?

  12. I have no problem with devices in class. Although, I do feel if you can’t mention most of what you’re trying to say without the internet right there at your fingertips, then you have an unfair advatage to giving good comments as compared to the rest of the people in your class. I guess it depends on why you’re commenting?

  13. Chris Gordon says:

    @Josh B., I think you’ve hit on it, and Em I love the self-analysis there. If we comment with the tone of an axe to grind or are just dying for an audience, and don’t focus on adding to the spiritual element of the lesson, then we’re missing a real opportunity to be uplifted.

    If I have one hope for technology devices, it would be that one day, soon, we can eliminate that popular phrase, “I’m not sure who said it but I think I heard it in a GC a while back, or was it Elder McConkie? Anyway, some general authority somewhere said,” followed by an admonition that God helps those who help themselves.

  14. We have a lot of members who use electronic devices at church. Banning them is . . . trying to find a charitable word . . . ignorant and naive (is the best I can do).

    Having said that, I still use my “non-streaming media artifact” (ie, traditional scriptures). I just like the feel of the pages in my hands, especially since I spend much of the day at work and then at home using a keypad of one kind or another.

  15. Humor moment: I have a rather elderly High Priest in my ward who refers (jokingly) to such devices as “palm readers.” It has caught on and many in my ward have dubbed them accordingly.

  16. #13 – Amen Chris – both about Em’s introspection and your hope for the future.

  17. How would I be able to discreetly get to my NIV without my ipad? There would probably be mass revolt even in my ultraconservative stake if electronic devices were banned and it would probably start with the stake presidency and go down from there. We do have wireless routers but it’s for “official” church business only and passwords are not easily obtainable. We’ve even started broadcasting stake meetings to remote chapels and because we can’t all fit in the stake center stake conference will be broadcast via the internet to other chapels.

  18. Clark Goble says:

    I’ve heard (rumor, I know) some wards and stakes banning electronic devices, at least in sacrament meeting.

    I’ve not heard this. Although I can imagine that if a few phone calls pop up in Sacrament they might make a policy. Lots of people in my ward use their phones as their scriptures now. (Including me) Thus far I’ve yet to hear a phone ring…

    From what I’ve heard the Church is much more about installing internet in chapels. I think their emphasis on some really excellent apps demonstrates their focus too. I love having an always up to date ward directory for instance. (Now if only there were photos in the app) I have some problems with their scripture program (the Children’s hymnal doesn’t display right) and the web based talk search seems to screw up the resolution when you zoom in on an iPhone4/4s. But overall they are doing quite well.

    My #1 wish is that they’d start having SVGA projectors to take out from the library. It’d be much nicer to put quotes up for lessons that way rather than having to use the chalk board. And you could tailor videos much more easier than the DVD player.

  19. Maybe its because I’m in a ward of eternal adolescents, ie singles ward, but I’ve found that most smart phones and the like are used for games, not participation or thoughtful discussion. I’ve done it myself, particularly when its one of those boring, read straight from the manual lessons.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    So far lots of tablets and smart phones, but AFAICT they’re used for scriptures. But I would certainly welcome if students were to come up with enrichment material that way.

  21. Clark Goble, # 18, each building in our stake has a projector that gets used about once a month in SS or in RS. Not yet seen it used in PH meeting, though.

    We are also running a Family History class during the SS time, where the class members are encouraged to bring their laptops so they can access the new Family Search. THREADJACK ALERT!!! However, with my experience with new Family Search, it’s wiki like capabilities have encouraged all sorts of ridiculous and wildly inaccurate misuse leading to all sorts of totally impossible family associations being made so that folks can do temple work for marriages that never happened, people who never existed, and dubious family relationships that surely will keep some of these folks in Spirit Prison for some extended period of time.

  22. Recently I sat in on the 17 year old Sunday School class. Two girls sitting next to me were chatting away, not making an attempt to be quiet. The teacher called on one of the girls to read a scripture but she didn’t have her scriptures. I handed her my iPad so she could read the verse. After she finished reading, she started to hand it back and I said, “Why don’t you hang on to that until class is over? I have my regular scriptures with me.”

    Their conversation ceased from that point on. :)

  23. We now refer to the hymnals as paper copies. The apps available on android and ios are amazing and getting better. 18, the latest version of ldstools for android has pictures of your ward members, but only if they added them to Unfortunately very few have done that.

  24. D. Fletcher says:

    I say, Internet Church. Why bother wasting the money to build and maintain a building? We can call it The Facebook of Mormon.

  25. My biggest concern is not with the way that mobile devices may either aid or impeded the learning process (they’ll do both) – my greater concern is separating “haves” from “have nots.” It’s not that using smart phones or tablets are a necessarily a problem, but does it become something where less affluent members or visitors are made starkly aware of their relative economic standing? The “least of these” may not even own dress clothes, let alone the latest electronic toys. I think this is becoming less of an issue as handhelds are becoming more commonplace, but at this point, I don’t pull out my iPad in general church meetings. There are enough things that separate me from my fellow ward members, I don’t need add “fancy gadgets” to the list.

  26. 25. JamesM, you bring up a good point. I recently gifted a Kindle Fire to my mother and put on the LDS Tools and Gospel Library on it for her (it’s a bit tricky, but outlined nicely here:
    Anyway, after a few Sundays with it, I asked her how she must love it at church. She hemmed and hawed for a minute and then said she didn’t use it at church, citing your very reason.

  27. I enjoyed using my new Kindle Fire for the first time in church last week. I’m a latecomer to electronica as far as our ward is concerned. I can’t imagine a ban in our building — our SP is a surgeon and sometimes on call. He and his exec sec text all the time on Sundays (even when they’re in the same building). Internet usage, however, is limited to the fortunate 4G crowd and the few who have the pass key…

  28. BTW, EmJen, very nice post; appreciate your introspection.

  29. On the other hand, my dad, as gospel doctrine teacher, loves using his Android tablet to teach. He has four or five different windows open, including the lesson, the scriptures, relevant LDS magazines, his notes, and commentary. He finds it so slick to be able to jump from one to the other seamlessly. And it has not impeded in the least his spiritual gift of bringing in the spirit to practically everything he teaches.

    Other commenters have brought up the lack of projector capability. I have also noticed that in our own ward as more and more teachers are utilizing the Mormon Messages as part of their lesson, they have to either burn it to a dvd or stick their laptop up on the table and hope everyone can see and hear.

    I should note that I don’t believe the general church will ban these technological devices, as they are making a concerted effort to get internet access to every ward building (hooray!) Just that it’s YMMV in terms of local leaders making those types of decisions. And I’m sure how to navigate this new technological accessibility boon is something that is being discussed in many wards.

  30. Right…to the degree the technology actually enables better teaching or better learning, I’m all for it. I use my iPad in Bishopric and Ward Council meetings to help me keep organized with my clerk stuff, and would probably also use it in teaching settings in certain ways.

  31. I would like to nominate #24 for BCOTW if it leads to a Matsby creation for the Facebook of Mormon.

  32. I’ve been teaching off my laptop for years ;)

    JamesM, that’s a very real concern. My ward in Brooklyn has both unemployed folks and financial people. Guess who has the iPad.

  33. As you might guess, those who are unemployed *tend* (with some exceptions) to not be the BIC Caucasian RM BYU grads, so the technological difference only drives another nail into the coffin of “I’m not like these people” and discourages activity and sense of community.

  34. Exactly what I was getting at, Ben S, but better said!

  35. A few more anectdotes: (i) I’ve tried using my iPad for high counsel speaking assignments. I didn’t like it so much and will probably go back to paper, but no one complained. (ii) Our high counsel room has no piano (no surprise) so we’ve begun using the LDS music app. I would recommend the same for the spanish branch I oversee (much easier than the CD player method), but the wife of our newly-called president is an awsome pianist.

    Not all uses have proven successful, however. We tried letting the kids read the Friend on the iPad in sacrament meeting. It was too distracting and all they wanted to do was zoom-in on the x-mas tree ornaments. They also grew agitated that the crossword puzzle could not be typed into. I substituted for Primary 11-year olds this week and considered putting an iPhone with the scriptures turned on “bright” into an old hat to show how the translation process work. Unfortunately the primary presidency (aka my wife) nixed the idea.

  36. .

    Our password is not only common knowledge, the bishop sent emails directly to all the teenagers, giving it to them.

  37. Clark Goble says:

    Ben S, I suspect that as smartphones become the majority phone that will change. It’s not much cheaper to have a land line than a cell phone anymore and you can get pretty good iPhones and Android devices for free with your account. The biggest deal is the extra fee per month for data. But people who might never have afforded a computer can often have access with a cell phone now. And being able to access the internet makes a world of difference in terms of what people are able to do for everything from getting a job to doing government forms.

    Of course I notice you said tablets and I have to admit I still don’t see a lot of those. I’m not sure how I’d feel about bringing one. Right now I keep my phone in my pocket during Sacrament simply because I don’t want my kids distracted. They aren’t quite mature enough to be able to understand only using scripture programs.

  38. The WPA key for our chapels is fairly common knowledge, and is the same across all 4 stakes in the area so that no matter where you go you can always get a connection, which is especially good for our rather tranistory YSA population (we don’t have Singles wards). As for the negative influences of the ‘net, we sit behind the standard LDS firewall as well as some tricksy business with DNS-intercept-and-redirect to block out the time wasting type of stuff.
    We’ve also got a USB / WiFi media receiver hooked up to the TV on wheels so media can be streamed straight off your device and a projector that comes out on every 5th Sunday common lesson.

  39. #s 15 and 35–My father told me the other day they have a fellow in their HPG that refers to smartphones and the like as “seerstones.” (And hey–what do YOU think the “white stone” everyone gets in the book of Revelation is? Probably not my Kindle Fire, sadly–it’s black.) [/tongue in cheek]

    I wonder about the disconnect between the haves and the have nots as well–I now carry my Kindle Fire instead of a 2″ binder, scripture case with regular-sized scriptures, plus whatever manual might be appropriate that Sunday. I take roll for my EQ, and have the scriptures, both the SS teacher’s manual and the reading guide, and the Teachings of Presidents manual (plus all of last year’s magazines) on the free LDS materials app. I recall Elder Maxwell in one of his speculative moments in conference referring to the “little red wagons” we’d need in the millennium to tote around the lost tribes’ scriptures, and I’m glad technology has made those wagons into a book-sized device.

    I think we’re just starting to see the implications of some of these changes, and I’m encouraged that the institutional Church doesn’t seem to be anything but enthusiastic about them. I was at a meeting in which President Eyring held up his (Kindle? iPad? I don’t remember) and talked about the necessity of reaching “hundreds of millions of people.”

    However, if we’re just talking about tools and not content, we’re really not doing anything more than the 13-year-olds I taught in SS just a couple of years ago, who spent most of the time playing Fruit Ninja instead of listening or participating. I get it–I play Fruit Ninja on the bus home some days. But I could certainly be reading next week’s lesson instead.

  40. “My father told me the other day they have a fellow in their HPG that refers to smartphones and the like as “seerstones.” ”

    Back when I was finishing my undergrad at BYU (c. 2000), I had a Dell laptop with Bibleworks on it. In Hebrew class, when we’d consult it for parsing or lexical information, we referred to it as “the oracle at Dell.”

  41. About 1/3 to 1/2 of the adults in my GD class use some type of smartphone/tablet for their scriptures. I use an iPad as my scriptures/manual to teach from. I find that the people with the electronic devices are the first ones to get to a scripture and volunteer to read.

  42. Raymond Takashi Swenson says:

    My bishop was initially opposed to people bringing tablet computers to meetings, until he realized that he could keep all his church planning information on his ipad along with scriptures.

    I found myself using my smartphone to pull up a discussion of the “Mormon Envy” chapter from the book Almost Christian when teaching a High Priests lesson last year. Around the 4th of July I was scheduled to speak in Sacrament Meeting and my printer wasn’t working, so I emailed my talk to myself and opened it on my Nookcolor before leaving home, and scrolled through my talk on the screen, a bit less obvious technique than opening my laptop on the lectern.

    One positive advantage of a tablet is having the LDS hymn book with music as well as words for those of us who don’t sing melody. My little pocket songbook is getting too small to read with my old eyes, and it is not worth hauling a full sized songbook for ten minutes total use at church.

    Having a full standard Church library at hand, including all Sunday School and Primary lesson manuals, can be very useful if you are in a presidency and have to backfill a sick teacher at the last minute. Being able to pull up the actual General Conference talk that a speaker or teacher is quoting from helps me understand what they said better, and would surely help the hearing impaired to get more from the experience.

    Finally, as several commenters have alluded to, there is an obvious similarity between the Urim &Thummim, the “white stone” we will receive in the celestial kingdom (which even requires a password to use!), and the small, luminous information appliances we now use. Scientist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The criticism of Joseph Smith for employing what might be described as “magical instruments” rings hollow in an age when similar magic is routine. How did a farmer in 1827 with no particular scientific bent even conceive of such instruments, which operated so much like the real thing we use today? For most Christians to say that God creates high tech instruments offends their resolve to keep God as immaterial as possible.

  43. About six months ago Elder Perry held a leadership meeting in Los Angeles for bishops, stake presidents, EQ presidents and HP group leaders. He mentioned that Elder Packer had decided that the GAs needed to take advantage of new technology and that all of them now had iPads, he then held up his own to show them. Technology use at church increased significantly among the leadership in my ward and stake after that.

  44. @42, not to be too snarky, but your Bishop only became persuaded when he found some personal benefit to a tablet device!?!? So what would have happened if he didn’t see any utility? I’ve seen it in my ward where the Bishop opined during a WC meeting he didn’t believe people were limiting their phone/tablet use to scriptures and wanted to ban them. Nothing like trying to force people to do it his way. He was persuaded not to try something as futile and ham handed as trying such a ban. Me, as the HPGL, and the EQP would have probably been the first to ignore such a silly ban.

    We don’t advertise our wireless pass code, but some of us have it. Once during a particularly dull SS lesson I could not resist the urge to check some football scores/stats and was shocked to see ESPN was blocked via the Church wireless. (Not sure how the filter is set up since I can easily access Drudge but no ESPN but i am rarely more grateful for my 3G in those pancked moments.) Other SS lessons would be almost impossible to sit through w/o the ability to regularly resort to Feast Upon the Word and other lesson prep/commentaries in the bloggernacle . Same is true for HPG meeting. Those class notes and commentaries are, IMO, a treasure trove of information and, for me, almost required reading each week as a supplement to the regular course outlines.

    One irritant for me, besides those above, is the inconsistent signal in our building. On more than one occasion I have incorporated a Mormon Message or GC clip into a lesson only to watch the screen freeze about 20 seconds in b/c of a weak or intermittent signal. Most time I can switch over to my 3G signal, but that takes a few moments and is distracting, particularly when teaching youth. I’ve been surprised at how attentive the youth and younger groups are whenever I wheel out my iPad to use during a lesson: cell phones get put away, conversations stop and all eyes are glued to the screen for a few moments. Very effective teaching tool, at least until the novelty wears off.

  45. .

    Why not raise your hand and make SS better by saying interesting things rather than retreating to Angry Birds? Don’t we all have a responsibility here? The SS teacher is not an entertainer; [s]he’s a facilitator.

  46. (1) I don’t need wifi for Angry Birds so that’s never a stumbling block and (2) have you played Angry Birds? Since you asked the question, I assume you haven’t had the experience.

  47. .

    I’m not sure if you’re misunderstanding me on purpose or not.

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