Friday, July 23, 2010

O, That I Were an Angel!: New Media for Mormon Missionary Work (Blog of the Month)

This past couple weeks I have been receiving emails from Gideon Burton, an English professor at BYU who specializes in rhetoric particularly relating to online blogging.  He and I agreed to collaborate on identifying good missionary blogs that he can use as examples for his students and for prospective future missionaries and their families. Today to my surprise I came across his newest blog O That I Were An Angel: New Media for Mormon Missionary Work that he has put up since our emails began. The blog is really graphically pleasing and has some really good insight in to the topic of missionaries using the new media. In his new blog, that has been active for only one week, Burton has already put up five posts.

Burton told me in an email that he is consulting for the LDS Church and that he specializes in exploring blogs as rhetoric:

My name is Gideon Burton. I am a BYU professor and have been very actively involved in developing academic websites for years. (As a librarian, you might be interested in my blog about Academic Evolution -- I'm a huge champion of Open Access...). I'm also just recently released as a bishop (where we actively used blogs and facebook in our ward). Currently, at BYU I have been involved in revisions to our writing program, integrating the teaching of blogging and online writing. (My doctoral degree is in rhetoric, and I've run a highly visited scholarly website on that topic for years). Anyway, this has put me in a position of doing some advising for online missionary work at the MTC. I work with the missionaries who take the chats at, and have been asked to develop some training materials for them. They are not yet blogging, but anticipate doing so to complement that chats and other media they are already using.
 I find it interesting that he picked my brain but did not indicate that he was interested in the topic nor that he would be starting a new blog primarily on the topic of missionaries using the new media.  I am a bit miffed that he didn't acknowledge my earlier posts nearly two years ago on the same subject:  Why Blogging Should be Added to the New Internet Mission Office System and Why Missionaries and Mission Presidents Should Blog.  I think Burton is a very good writer and I my blog's scope is broader so I think there is a niche for his narrow focus.

Burton starts out restating , my former CTM mission president M. Russell Ballard charge in his inaugural post Answering An Apostle's Call to Action.  Burton says that his blog will answer questions about why missionaries should blog:

Members have responded, posting their testimonies as videos or on blogs. And now, selected full-time missionaries have been assigned to pilot the use of New Media. These include missionaries who chat online with people through (the Referral Center Mission at the MTC and certain Visitor Center missionaries), as well as field missionaries who have begun blogging and using Facebook (such as in the New York, Rochester mission beginning in May 2010 under the direction of Pres. Michael Hemmingway).

Precisely because the New Media are new, they take getting used to. A blog, a chat room, or a Facebook wall are places where conversations happen, but according to new rules and customs. How can those who have been asked to use the New Media do so effectively? This blog attempts to answer that question.

In his second post, The Restored Gospel as New Media, he defines why he thinks the gospel is a form of media:

When we think about New Media and Mormonism, it is tempting just to dive into the technology available in the digital age. But before getting too caught up in the tools, we should recall that Christianity itself is based upon the concept of mediation, and that Mormonism itself constitutes a new medium for Christianity. 

I think these facts are terribly important to keep in mind, since it is very tempting simply to imitate how others are using new media secularly. We have a better vantage point; we can view our own uses of media as continuous with our core beliefs and our own religious history. Let me explain just what I mean by relating Mormon history and beliefs to the New Media.

The third post What Are the New Media Gideon tries to show that the New Media is an interactive process that involves commenting and engaging the reader.

His fourth post Should Missionaries Blog considers the pros and cons of missionaries blogging.  Burton muses: "This blog is all about helping missionaries use New Media effectively. But I'd like to begin by questioning the very assumption that any sort of blogging is appropriate or effective for those who are set apart to proselyte." He explains the public relations elements for missionaries blogging and explores missionaries roles in finding, teaching, and connecting with investigators.

His fifth post Social Networking for Missionaries discusses barriers to using social networks and questions if missionaries should be on social networks.  He suggests that the negative things can be overcome if missionaries are controlled in how they are allowed to use Facebook.  He gives eight benefits: Being Personal, Creating Connections Among People/Missionaries, Emphasizing Family, Events, Engaging People Through Updates, Online Teaching, Distance Investigators & Missionary Coordination, and Greater Member Involvement

Burton has a wiki on missionary work to go along with his blog.  I think he will make a valuable contribution to the world of LDS missionaries blogging.  He has a lot of interesting ideas and is a very articulate and erudite writer.  I hope the LDS authorities will consult him including the new Blogging Czar Michael Hemingway, the former New York Rochester Mission President who has been hired by the LDS Church Missionary Department.

Also I think he might have some things to add to the LDS Church's new Digital Area Book Project. The Church is trying to establish a new online system to be used in the wards for

The Digital Area Book is an electronic portal to help enable members and missionaries to collaborate in real-time about the people they are focused on in ward councils and missionary correlation meetings. It will include electronic records of contacts and teaching records, with an emphasis on Preach My Gospel. After logging into this tool, missionaries will be enabled to securely use email to contact investigators, members, and mission leaders, and to share key action items and calendars with members. Members can similarly log in and see a dashboard view, customized to their calling. For example, ward mission leaders will be able to see real-time Progress Records, as well as notifications on which investigators and new converts most need assistance. This project will eventually support multiple form factors, including mobile devices, netbooks, and desktops. This project is being piloted in Japan, with a goal of initial deployment in mid-2010.

Burton has a real grasp of the uses of the New Media that could really aid them.  Check out the O, That I Were An Angel blog on ways of improving missionaries blogging and contact Burton if you have ideas on ways of improving the process.

1 comment:

Gideon Burton said...

Thanks for featuring my new blog on yours! I'm going to be returning the favor, soon. Your sites are so valuable in providing a central place for info about LDS mission blogs. I've spent many hours studying the blogs that you have aggregated and featured. You're right, mine is a bit more specifically focused than yours, and in my view there is so much work to be done in figuring all of this out that we just need lots of great volunteers and sites devoted to the cause. I appreciate any feedback (and one of your readers already emailed me with a great suggestion, so I'm grateful for you sending readers my way...). Keep up the good work!