That’s something easier said than done for those of us teaching full-year courses, for no matter how fresh our ideas are at the beginning of the second semester, we’ll be face-to-face with the same students we had in the first, who are in no mood to hop into some new wineskins in the middle of January. It’s very difficult to change a classroom dynamic after the first few weeks of the year…cue the flashbacks to my first year of teaching. Despite the discouraging prospects for effecting change, however, I am entering the second semester with a few goals in mind, the most pressing of which concerns my students’ use of technology.
Let me preface this by saying that I’m no luddite. Well, perhaps a modest one, but I’m certainly not reluctant to make the internet part of my class. In fact, I use it quite frequently, most often to listen to audio recordings of stories or poems, or show videos on topics relevant to what we’re reading. It’s irreplaceable for those kinds of things. I’d be an irresponsible teacher if I didn’t give my class a chance to hear T.S. Eliot reading “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” or watch John Huston’s film adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood after we read it.
What I wish I could do in the second semester, though, is roll back some of the brazen ease with which students pull out their phones or iPads at any lull in classroom action. I know what goes through their minds. “We’re finished a quiz and the teacher put a question to write about on the board? Well, let me just check my email and play a few games, since really, I don’t have to do anything right now.” For anyone who has taught in a high school in the last five years, you know exactly what I mean. It’s become a benchmark of adolescence: their bodies will stretch, their clothes will grow small, and their handheld devices are more interesting than you.
I admit that I bear some responsibility for the phenomenon. After starting off the year by saying that no electronics were allowed in class unless specifically noted by me (e.g. for a research assignment or to read an open-copyright work not found in our textbook), I should have laid into the first rule-breakers of September and given them three nights’ detention. But would being tougher have made much difference? The students carry around their phones in their pockets, have tablets and laptops in their bags, and it’s a law of physics that those devices will eventually spill out onto their desks during class time, no matter what the teacher’s efforts may be to keep them at bay.
Educators lack an adequate framework to sort out the conundrum of technology. Those who argue for paper-free classroom and those who argue against it can claim studies to support their points. Without an overarching vision of what it means to educate other than to give students “skills” (or worse, “information”), we are without a transcendent standard by which to adequately judge whether new methods or tools actually help students. All we have are statistics, which are insignificant without a framework, and that means that the educators who argue for “progress” usually win, because, well, what's the alternative? Retrogression? That “progress” often is a veneer for powerful interests, which, politics being politics, helps it sweep through state boards of education. Call me a pessimist, but I think all hope is lost for stemming the technological tide in public schools, though I'd love to be proven wrong.
Catholic educators, however, have a case to make against the overuse of technology in the classroom, and we should make it. In short time, I hope to have better clarified points up here that draw upon our understanding of sacrament and Christ's example as a teacher to argue that a pedagogy dependent on personal devices not only harms students but is utterly un-Catholic. Stay tuned!
For now, though, I’d love to hear some experiences and opinions on this issue. Give that comment box some action!