(post 1 of a 4-part series on why I teach with the iPad)
Transformation is a tricky thing—it’s about questions, about process, about discovery. When those around you are focused on results, on products, on the bottom line, transformation can seem like an intangible, unmeasurable luxury. But without it, how can we move forward? How can we get our students to take ownership of their own learning? How can we help them find their own, creative answers to challenging questions? How can we prepare them for the jobs of the future and help them to build a life that is productive, thoughtful, and engaged with the world in which we all live?
My job as an educator is to focus on the process, on the transformation, because I believe that the results will inevitably follow. Learning is an active process of reading, thinking and writing. It’s a collaborative process that requires each of us—students and professor alike—to take account of the needs of our fellow learners as well as ourselves. And it’s a risky process, because the only place to find new knowledge and new skills is at the edge of our comfort zone.
Transformation is what happens when students embrace all three of these aspects of learning, when they realize that the lessons they learn from me are applicable beyond the walls of the classroom. Many students are surprised that I emphasize how my classes will help them in their life beyond college. Because I teach medieval literature, they expect that my classes can only be about the past, rather than also offering lessons about the future. But the two can and should be connected. When I assign a blogging project in which students are responsible for helping teammates remember their deadlines, I am also teaching them medieval ideas about what it means to live and work in a community. When I assign Twitter essays that emphasize brevity and concision, I am also teaching them how challenging it was for medieval scribes, whose writing materials were valuable commodities that could not be wasted.
Another surprise for my students and colleagues is the extent to which technology is integrated into my teaching. I’m not sure why people expect medievalists to be Luddites; fear of technological innovation is largely a modern phenomenon (unless you count that hilarious Norwegian “Medieval Helpdesk” video that made the rounds on YouTube a few years ago). Today’s students have access to more information and more learning opportunities than ever before, so we must help them understand why all sources are not created equal. We must show them how to choose the “right” information as opposed to merely the first search result. I know many teachers work hard to keep technology out of their classrooms because they fear the temptations of distraction, but I want my students to take advantage of all the tools at their disposal. I want them to practice the ever-trickier art of information discernment. I require my students to bring their iPads to class every single day and encourage them to try and answer one another’s questions as often as possible rather than looking only to me for answers. This way, my students will not only learn how to find the resources that they need, but will also feel empowered to move beyond the limits of my knowledge. Because the ultimate transformation in education is when our students start to ask their own questions that will broaden the horizons of future generations.