The following is a guest post from our intern, Nicholas Sawicki. The Ignatian Educator welcomes guest contributions from writers, scholars, teachers, students, parents or administrators who are interested in joining the conversation about Catholic education. Contributors may send guest blog posts to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line "The Ignatian Educator."
In his article Eating the Apple (America, 8/26/13), Sam Sawyer, S.J., discusses the theological and dogmatic implications of a world obsessed with Apple products. Sawyer writes “we are better off for it: freer to innovate, to communicate and to imagine how we might use the tools we have been given to change the world.” And he’s right. Apple, and technology in general, helps us to be more creative, develop necessary computer skills, and to have information ad nauseum available at our fingertips. Technology, at its essence, is really a benefit to Society, but to what extent? And what happens when it meets Jesuit education?
I am an old fashioned kind of guy: I still write my notes by hand (in cursive, much to bafflement of my younger peers), buy the books instead of downloading them, and would rather talk face-to-face than text or over a phone if possible. So, I do have a personal bias in what I am about to say, but don’t let that invalidate it: iPads and other technological instruments should have a very limited place in the classroom as an overt tool for accomplishing tasks, not an exclusive one. Such instruments undermine the very essence of Jesuit education if used exclusively, being public discussion, group cooperation, and personal interfacing between individuals.
First and foremost, iPads in classrooms undermine students taking physical notes from the lectures, texts, and in-class discussions. Studies have shown that students who physically write out their notes have a greater retention of what was discussed rather than those who type the information. The second point: students often don’t take notes now, nor do they need to. Being that there is such a push to integrate technology into the classroom and to make the slideshows available online for students to review later, students are far less likely to record what is discussed and more likely to do a cursory glance at the information later, if at all.
A final point to be made is that students are losing valuable social skills in their most formative years. With the advent of texting, iMessages, Facebook, twitter, and the like, it seems that people in general have this growing inability to not only focus on any one thing for any given amount of time, but also lack the ability to simply turn to the person next to them and hold a conversation. These abilities are at the very heart of Jesuit education. Since the beginning, there has been a focus on being able to publicly display ones thoughts in speech and the written word, an idea known as eloquentia perfecta (the perfection of eloquence). Whilst technology certainly allows for students to have more direct access to information, to create proper formatting, and to create better presentations, it does not help them ultimately learn more or to actually learn how to express their ideas more clearly. Because the information is readily available, students are less likely to remember it; because word processors format papers automatically, students no longer focus on grammar or spelling. It will soon grow, if it hasn’t already, into a serious problem of technological dependency.
However, despite all of this, there is a place for technology in Jesuit education. In spite of popular belief, Jesuit education has grown significantly since the Ratio Studiorum of 1599 (This acted as the format for all Jesuit schools for centuries). Since that time, Jesuits have integrated a varying and significant number of changes into their pedagogical imperatives (e.g. tuition for schools was once considered an unthinkable idea, and I for one, as a student at a Jesuit school, certainly could advocate for a regression to that policy! That’s for another discussion, though). An imperative of Jesuit schools is that they prepare their students for the world and workforce that they are entering. This means that it would be negligent on the part of the schools not to ensure that their students have sufficient computer schools; however, it is also negligent to make their students overtly dependent on technology.
A balance must be found and total dependence should be out of the question. This has not always been the case thus far, and I fear that the trend will spread. It reminds me of the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Jesuit education can grow to meet the demands of the technological world, but it must continue to emphasize, rather than abandon, its founding principles: one-on-one discussion, academic rigor, and eloquentia perfecta.