Every May, I recall my first semester of seminary studies. I entered Covenant Theological Seminary in January of 1993, a mid-school year move I heartily recommend to all future seminarians (you don't have to start out with killer Greek during the summer and you can mash out some counseling, church history, and theology courses that have no pre-requisites and you can ease into graduate school life with less stress). In May of that year, I had a pre-exam-and-exam fortnight that consisted of taking two exams and typing four pages of at least fifteen pages apiece.
I slogged through it pretty well, shocking myself with relatively sterling grades, and then took off for Nashville to visit my friends Phil and Jennifer Covington. Phil and I hit his health club for a trifecta of racquetball games to build up our appetite for dinner. In the middle of the second game, I bounced the ball before I served it and went to clench it in my grasp...when it trickled out of my hand. I bent my fingers and (1) saw I couldn't use their full range of motion and (2) felt incredible pain in the underside of my left wrist.
Short story was: I went back to St. Louis two days later, checked in with my physician, and Dr. Reynolds promptly told me I had carpal tunnel syndrome. Hello, wrist splint.
But at least I got it doing something meaningful.
Where is this going, you ask?
One of the loudest conversations occurring in schools today is the extent and use of technology. There is a sense where just an overhead projector or document camera might be enough to put me at ease, but the days of "Bring Your Own Digital Device" or 1:1 iPad initiatives are upon us, and we have to figure out how those creations and 21st-century education might interface.
No one denies that, I think. However, I don't think the problem comes with the use of technology, but the danger is failing to ask the necessary questions when deciding on how to integrate technology.
And those questions are...
1- Will this device make students better readers?
2- Will this device make students better writers?
3- Will this device make students better critical thinkers (i.e., logic)
Convinced of this matters, I required all my students this year to get a different element of technology: a composition book (fifty cents at Wal-Mart...can't beat it). Once a week on average, we take fifteen minutes of time to quiet ourselves and free-write in response to a writing prompt. No phones, no laptops. Just students, pencils, pens, and paper.
Questions like "Which do you believe has had more impact on your life: the situations you find yourself in, or the choices you make? Why do you say that?" Or this past week's was: "Complete one of the following statements: (a) You need God for morality, because... or (b) You don't need God for morality, because...
By the end, students grasp their hands because, yes, it's more than they are used to writing at one time and some of them feel carpal tunnel syndrome coming on. Yes, I write along with one class per week, answering the same question. You know what? I get the same pain in my hand, and I love it. And I think my students are slowly realizing this: When you write by hand, you tap deeply into your humanity, and you grow the garden that has taken root in your soul, and you tend to remember what you experience.
No phones, no laptops, no iPads. But I think my students are starting to enjoy writing response time just the same. They write, they read what they write, and they learn to think. I can't ask for any greater joy than that.