(post 3 of a 4-part series on why I teach with the iPad)
The most recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers tells us that to be successful, graduating seniors need to be able to make decisions and solve problems, communicate effectively and work well with others, make plans and prioritize, and have good technology skills. The iPad has helped my students be successful in all of these areas.
Let’s start with problem-solving. As mentioned above, I always encourage my students to find their own answers. That means it’s also up to them to find the best sources to support those answers. Recently, in a discussion on Plato’s Republic, Augustine’s City of God, and The Rule of St. Benedict, my students were trying to decide whether “equity,” “justice,” and “fairness” were really just different words for the same concept. After looking at a few different sources, they decided that the Oxford English Dictionary would be the most helpful since it shows how a word’s meaning changes over time. Even though the texts we were discussing pre-date our language, seeing how these words were used in the past helped them grasp the differences among the concepts. The iPad makes it easy to access different resources in our library, on our class Blackboard site, and on the internet; this broad access means that they have to make a real decision rather than choosing from resources that I have already vetted and provided for their use.
It’s easy to see how this exercise is directly related to communicating and working with others. Group work in my classes ranges from simple, in-class exercises to major projects that take weeks of work and planning to complete. Students can use iCloud, Google Docs, and Dropbox to share research and documents; they can use messaging and calendar apps to keep up with each other and arrange meetings. It’s great to see them collaborating on documents without the barrier of a laptop screen getting in the way of conversation. The iPad also allows them to share their work in something other than a standard essay or in-class presentation. The jobs of the future will require students to produce video, to create documents and websites that integrate words and images. The iPad helps them to practice those skills now. Creating projects together means that everyone can bring their own strengths to the table, and everyone can learn from their colleagues’ skills and knowledge.
Students who thoughtfully involve themselves in this kind of communal work are also more willing to stretch the boundaries of their learning in other areas. In their writing, they embrace creative approaches rather than relying solely on what they already do well. In their reading, they take risks and share their own interpretations rather than waiting for someone to tell them what the “right” answer is.
Because the iPad is integral to these learning experiences, it helps students feel confident in their use of technology. Despite the claims that today’s college students are “digital natives,” the evidence among my students suggests otherwise. Using technology well—so that it is an effective and an efficient tool—is a skill. Like writing, public speaking, or calculus, it’s something that must be taught not just in terms of how to do it but also why it’s important. And because the iPad helps my students with so many of the skills that they will need in their lives after college, it’s easier for them to understand why it’s a skill worth mastering.