By Rory Gilchrist
It’s a question I get asked a lot: What role does technology play in the Great Books Program? I’m not the only one struggling for an answer—the College continually asks what role it should play. And as with almost every question we ask ourselves here, there’s a lot of room for disagreement. Some of my friends love the ease and the power of e-readers. They can keep the entirety of the program (and then some) on an iPad; useful when, say, Ptolemy references a Euclid prop to pull up the Elements in a flash. Others loathe their presence, and feel their classmates lose focus and get drawn into these shiny new devices. (These are the kind of people who write their papers on typewriters, however.) I think I stand somewhere in between. It certainly can be cost-effective, particularly over the span of four years, to rely on translations available in the public domain. At the same time, I can see the argument that these gizmos bring you no closer to the ideas these authors strove to understand, and could well distract you from them.
Our sister campus in Annapolis provides the following rationale to their students:
The following is the sense of the faculty regarding electronic devices in the classroom:”It is essential that students and tutors be actively engaged in classroom discussions. Tutors will exercise their judgment to promote engagement in the proper activity of the classroom and to minimize anything that detracts from or interferes with it [… ] Tutors are concerned that electronic reading devices also may present a distraction; students who choose to use them to prepare for class should realize that their use in class may not be permitted. They should also note that translations available for these reading devices are often poor in quality. We advise students not to be guided solely by what is available electronically when choosing editions and translations.”
I can certainly see their point; the temptation is substantial to check facebook or your emails or even play a quick round of Doodle Jump during a lull in the discussion. Here in Santa Fe, I think the policy is a lot more relaxed. It’s up to the individual tutor to decide how comfortable he or she is with students using these devices. I myself have used my iPad a couple of times in class, for everything from a second copy of my Greek textbook to keeping a year’s worth of lab notes all in one place. ∗
What do you think? Should students be allowed to use whatever format they’d prefer in class? or do these provide too much of a distraction for a curriculum as personal as our Program? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.