Sister Cheryl Esplin speaks to a student at Devotional about the weekly Devotional Challenge.

Changing the way devotional is presented has the potential to add value to students' experience and increase their immersion in disciple preparation.

May 22, 2017
Writer: Phillip Price

A new format for BYU-Idaho devotionals opens up innovative potential for speakers to use a more dynamic approach to their address, stimulating increased audience participation and application of the principles they teach. Devotional speakers can now freely bring in the elements of dialogue for audience engagement from the thousands of campus and online students. 

"We are trying to get away from the 'sage on the stage,' lecture-type environment," said Trish Gannaway, guest hosting & institutional events coordinator. 

As devotional has typically been focused on the speaker's message, there has not been as much of a focus on audience participation. Gannaway continued, "What can we do to make people feel more involved, and hopefully get something more out of it by having a personal experience?"

Changing the way devotional is presented has the potential to add value to students' experience and increase their immersion in disciple preparation. The idea to change the format came from President Henry J. Eyring. In particular, Eyring desires to integrate the Learning Model into devotional including preparation, involvement, discussion boards and follow-up.

"It's important for us to have the learning model experience, things stick better when we are involved," said Eyring in an interview with BYU-Idaho Radio. "The discussion board helps get people involved even before devotional begins."

During the first devotional of the semester, the Eyrings invited the audience to participate with them in what is called the "pair and share" portion of devotional. This is the time when the devotional speaker opens topics or questions for discussion among audience members. 

Students are given the chance to respond to activities and/or questions provided by the next week's speaker on the I-Learn discussion board. They can share their experiences and answer questions to one another about what they do currently or what they plan to do in the future to apply the principles discussed.

"The hope is that students prepare before they come to the devotional. Do a small assignment, then share how that experience changed them or what they've noticed-something they can do to improve themselves," Gannaway said.

During the actual devotional, speakers may choose to have a student or two join them on the stand for a short discussion. Then the speaker might open it up to the audience to converse with their neighbor regarding the question the speaker poses for them.

Those who are watching the live broadcast online can also participate. The questions or comments made on the discussion board are displayed for the livestream.

"During those times when everybody in the audience is chatting among themselves about the question that has been asked, we want the people who are watching that aren't in the BYU-Idaho Center to feel a part of that." Gannaway said. "If you're sitting at your computer and you don't have anyone to pair and share with, you can at least still be involved by reading the comments."

Even those listening on BYU-Idaho Radio have been considered. Student employees at the radio station will either read comments selected from the discussion board or share their own thoughts live on the radio.

"It's just another great medium for people to use. If they are alone listening to the radio, they can get feedback from their peers. If they are with their peers while listening to the radio, they may be inspired to start a conversation from something that was said," said BYU-Idaho Radio student reporter Nina Janne. "Having the discussion on all these different avenues is just one easy way for students to get talking about it and to be involved."

The university is taking advantage of all these mediums to bring the Learning Model experience of devotional to more people than just those at the university.    "We are very aware of the people who are not present when the talk is given and we want them to feel a part of what is happening in the  BYU-Idaho Center," Gannaway said.

The only way students could participate before this new format was simply through an invitation on the devotional's webpage on byui.edu to study passages of scripture or other resources.  "But whether anyone did it or saw it, we had no idea. There was no reporting or sharing of thoughts," Gannaway said.

With the Learning Model as their guide, devotional speakers will be encouraged to utilize this new format in an effort to increase devotional engagement.

"We hope to see more creativity incorporating the Learning Model into the devotionals from faculty members who have been using the Learning Model in their classes," Gannaway said. "They know what works and what they're comfortable doing and what they can do to have more participation."