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September 10, 2010, 04:44 PM ET

No Homer on Your iPads, Please

Lots of colleges are experimenting with e-book readers. St. John’s College is fighting them.

At a recent meeting, the faculty of the liberal-arts college's Annapolis campus voted "to discourage students from loading up Homer or Aristotle on their Kindles or iPads and bringing them to seminar," said Rosemary Harty, the college's communications director.

The faculty stopped short of banning the devices, Ms. Harty said in an e-mail to The Chronicle. But professors made sure the college now has a policy that says that faculty members are "concerned that electronic reading devices also may present a distraction," and students can be asked to keep them out of the classroom.

Professors worry e-readers will draw students' attention away from classroom discussions at the college, known for a Great Books curriculum that requires students to read more than 100 texts before graduation. The faculty members, called "tutors" at St. John's, also worry that students will opt for free digital versions of classical texts. These are often older and sloppier translations, says Eric Salem, a professor.

"If the student has a 19th-century translation on their e-book, it can interfere with doing a close reading with the rest of the class," Mr. Salem said. "If we’re reading and discussing it aloud, it's often a logistical difference of literally being on the same page."

Dean Pamela Kraus insists her institution isn't antitechnology. The college has a committee exclusively looking into ways to incorporate technology in the classroom, she said.

Comments

1. fergbutt - September 10, 2010 at 04:49 pm

Had Johannes Gutenberg invented the touchpad instead of the printing press, we'd now be arguing how insane it is to use ink and paper instead.

2. kohenari - September 10, 2010 at 05:49 pm

While I agree with the point about obscure and unhelpful translations, I do think it's worthwhile to note that I'm teaching the Iliad and the Odyssey this semester ... and all of my lecture notes are on my iPad. The students are still required to buy the books, but I'm done with printing out my lecture notes and lugging around all of that paper.

3. jffoster - September 10, 2010 at 08:10 pm

St. John's of Annapolis doesnt want Homer on their students' I pads. Is it OK for em to have Jethro?

4. amnirov - September 10, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Faculty who fear tech as a "distraction" should probably work on not being so boring. I'll take on a laptop or an iPad any day. As far as the ancient translation point goes... it's sort of silly considering that said faculty probably learned the material using those very same translations.

5. arrive2__net - September 11, 2010 at 12:36 am

Books have their particular advantages, and professors in most classes do like to see all the students in the class have the same textbook and edition, so they can refer to pages by number. So it seems to me that if the college can easily standardize a textbook, but not an electronic device, the textbook may be the better choice in that context. With the same textbook the prof can casually confirm that the students apparently have the same book, and can see if it is open, and turned to something like the right page.

As far as I can tell, none of "the Great Books" are less than 50 years old, and many are millennia old, so they are inherently an old media. Translations of them do change and progress over time, as new research, technology, and ideas shape the understanding of the translators. Newer translations are generally thought to be more accurate and meaningful, as human understanding of the past has progressed since old translations. Further, English usage changes, you don't necessarily want your students studying Homer in 1860s English.

Its good to know that "The faculty stopped short of banning the devices ...", because after the students develop their intellect, insight, and wisdom using the Great Books, they still have to return to the 21st Century to live.

Bernard Schuster
Arrive2.net

6. dajones - September 13, 2010 at 06:20 am

It is interesting to me to see so many so-called open minded academics jump to conclusions about a program they know nothing about. First of all, St. John's doesn't use textbooks in the classroom, but instead requires students to bread primary documents. Secondly, tutors at St. John's do not lecture- the Socratic method is employed in it's purest form. Certainly in these classrooms there are not professors assigning pages from a textbook and students are allowed to select the translation they wish to read from a list of recommended translations. There really are some translations that are better than others. The point is that the curriculum at St. John's requires students to be engaged in the class discussion, which means that their focus should be on the texts and not their incoming emails or other things buzzing or zinging on their screen. Technology can be distracting and there is good reason to focus on the discussion while holding a real book in one's hand. These students use computers just like all others, but they also understand that the classroom is someplace special and serious. These students also selece 6semesters of laboratory science and the 8semestes of required mathematics, including semesters of calculus. Yes, technology has it's place, but so do books. In cas none of you

7. dajones - September 13, 2010 at 06:39 am

Sorry -my technology jumped ahead of me and subitted my comment prematurely. Picking up where I left off...in case none of you realize it, many of your students sit in class checking email, working on other courses, and playing games while you think they wee taking notes or paying attention to you. I've seen this from the back of the room during many classroom visits and it happens regardless of how inteesting the professor might be. But besides that, the number one complaint of most employers is that today's young people don't know how to have a conversation, pick up the phone and call someone for business purposes, or sit in a meeting without constantly checking their blackberry for non-work related emails. Perhaps we should applaud st. John's for helping students realize when technology is appropriate and when it is not. Unlike in your classroom, young employees on the job don't have the right to use paid work time to manage their social life and network of email chatting friends.

Oh, and for all of you greenies, how sustainable are your campuses when everyone is plugging in yet another device every night.

By the way, I am typing this my new iPad, so I am not a technophobe, but instead am someone who realizes that technology, too, has its limitations and that there is something wonderful about holding a book in one's hands. Or maybe I just remember what calculators have done to the ability of American students to compete with their international peers. I remember when Ed schools were teaching that students no longer need to learn a their multiplication tables now that we have calculators. Decades later we now know that students who don't learn their multipliation tables will never be successful In higher level mathematics.

Why do so many of you have to see something wrong or bad in anything that anyone does differently than you?

8. englishwlu - September 13, 2010 at 06:54 am

This summer I was working on the St John's campus in Santa Fe, though not for St. John's. The institutional hostility to technology showed clearly in this incident. I approached the library circulation desk with my Netbook, asking "Does the campus wireless network reach the library?" The person minding the desk replied with great hauteur, "It isn't _supposed_ to!" Heaven forbid that one could reach the information super-highway from a _library_.

It's totally reasonable to focus a seminar discussion on texts, to dictate an approved edition, and to want the laptop lids to stay closed to bar shopping and Facebooking. But if iPads become the devices that hold most books in the future, better arguments for banning them will need to be devised.

"Stop!" said King Canute, to the tide.

9. paievoli - September 13, 2010 at 07:14 am

Personally it is clay tablets for me. I was going to upgrade to scrolls but why waste the non-renewable materials. Good luck and good night. At some point we should see what our counterparts around the word are using - oh nevermind.
Keep holding on to yesterday no matter what it costs our students, because I guess it is about what we as faculty are comfortable with, not what is necessary to the future of our students.

10. urspider - September 13, 2010 at 07:28 am

Given St. John's curriculum, I suppose it makes sense.

I disagree with the practice, but if their faculty vote for it, so be it. I'm enough of a contrarian that I'd *require* my students to buy ebook editions of classic texts, if I were to teach there.

I don't permit laptops in my classes, btw, except for note-taking (and the students must e-mail me the notes).

Some schools will keep a type of pre-Internet pedagogy alive, as St. John's has done. But they will be like heirloom vegetables in a sea of GM crops. Who knows? In times to come we may need to go back and sample that DNA.

11. jpistone - September 13, 2010 at 08:05 am

I teach programming for mobile devices, yet I prefer anything of length to be in paper form. I often wonder if that's due to my having been raised on the format (old dog thing). If we view iPad type devices as simply electronic methods supplanting paper ones, then I think, like computers themselves, we're missing the forward picture, and just seeing these devices as something through a rear view mirror. iPods weren't just a take on MP3 players or walkmans. Because of iTunes, they radically remade our experience in shopping, purchasing, and enjoying music. It was a package deal that made the difference. If for no other reason than the publishing houses are seeing their future as RIAA deja vu all over again, we'll have to wait and see what's in store. These are not just electronic texts anymore than Gutenberg's press was a just a non hand-written product. It changed quite a bit.

12. athlwulf - September 13, 2010 at 08:48 am

The college isn't anti-technology, folks, they have a committee. Well, in that case...

13. goxewu - September 13, 2010 at 08:52 am

dajones has a point about commenters reflexively jumping in to object to other academics elsewhere doing something different. That said, and affirming the perfect right of very different St. John's College in Annapolis to do things its own way, a couple of points about students' electronic devices in the classroom:

* Just because students CAN do academically deleterious things with their devices in class, doesn't mean that the devices are bad or, especially, that they should be banned. Students can write silly notes to their friends with their pens, and read comic books sequestered inside textbooks, but professors presumably still want students to bring pens and textbooks to class, don't they?

* If the class is interesting and demanding enough, students won't spend their class periods doing e-mail or playing games on their iPads. If, however, they can do that stuff and still get the grades they want in the course, there's something wrong with the course that the professor needs to fix.

* When I teach, I don't allow laptops to be used because, in small classes or seminars, the clicking of the keys bothers me, and in large lecture classes, the clicking of the keys bothers other students. But iPads are silent and unobtrusive. I do not, however, allow them to be turned on when I'm projecting anything on a classroom screen, because little glows all over the classroom is disruptive to me and to other students.

* In a seminar, I prefer the subtle and silent hand movements of students operating iPads or e-readers, to everybody's riffling through paper pages, to get to the particular text being discussed.

14. jsener - September 13, 2010 at 09:10 am

The iPad is just a tool. Using an out-of-date iPad text for a classroom discussion is no different from using an out-of-date print copy, so the 'out-of-dateness' is a non-issue. If using a specific translation is an important learning requirement, then simply enforce the requirement, plain and simple. (Although comparing versions from different translators can be a valuable learning technique, can it not?)

The comments so far reflect the attitudes which typically swirl about this issue -- technology adoption bad, refusing to adopt technology bad. But IMO the real issue is whether or not St. John's faculty are using this issue as an opportunity to think about how they teach. It's hard to tell from the article whether the St. John's professors are being reflective or simply reflexive about the potential benefits of a new tool. For example, have they considered how an iPad might help a Socratic discussion rather than hinder one -- faster access? ability to compare different translations? Unfortunately, the article does not inform us about the answers to these questions...


15. emmadw - September 13, 2010 at 09:26 am

I fully agree with the point re. out of date translaltions - also the fact that if students are using paper for taking notes - that they might be writing anything, rather than lecture based stuff.
(Does the lecturer who requires students email electronic notes also require photocopies of handwritten ones? Does he/she read them? Are only summaries of points the tutor made acceptable - what about thoughts that arose as part of the discussion - e.g. points for linking to other courses/questions to further research??)

But, back to the point - I take the point that students have to discuss the text - so it's useful if they all have the same version - are they allowed to annotate their copies (assuming they're personal ones?)
What's, therefore, the difference between doing it on an iPad or a Kindle (esp. the latter, as you can't get email etc., on it) - in a way that is probably searchable & doing it on paper - which sint' that searchable.

But, at least students aren't being banned; those students able to use them wisely could be used as an example of how allowing students to make the choice will enable them to learn in a way that suits them best.

16. mccoyshelley - September 13, 2010 at 10:01 am

" jffoster - September 10, 2010 at 08:10 pm
Report Abuse
St. John's of Annapolis doesnt want Homer on their students' I pads. Is it OK for em to have Jethro?"

I had to snicker at your comment because when I read the headline I thought the article was going to be about Homer Simpson !

17. kgschneider - September 13, 2010 at 10:30 am

"[The] number one complaint of most employers is that today's young people don't know how to have a conversation, pick up the phone and call someone for business purposes, or sit in a meeting without constantly checking their blackberry for non-work related emails. Perhaps we should applaud st. John's for helping students realize when technology is appropriate and when it is not."

Amen. I too am fully on-board with the wonders of technology, and I love reading on my iPad. But it is naive to think that even the best teacher can trump the distraction of these very tempting devices, and new employees entering the full-time workforce from college do seem to have to be taught fundamental business practices that appear to contradict behavior that was allowed or even encouraged during their school experience.

However I do apologize on behalf of librarians everywhere if a librarian gave anyone attitude about wifi in a library... ANY library. Where I work we not only offer wifi, we went to considerable effort to ensure it reaches to every study-worthy pocket of our building. And I also agree that "we're not anti-tech, we formed a committee!" made me quite literally "lol."

18. classicalprof - September 13, 2010 at 11:20 am

Obviously the best solution is to make the students learn Greek so that translations are no longer an issue.

19. whitby - September 13, 2010 at 11:32 am

One of the main complaints quoted by the tutors is the "logistical difference of literally being on the same page." In addition to the archaic translations, which often contribute to the percieved inaccessability of the texts in question, the electronic editions have not only no page numbers to reference, but also no line numbers, a standard method of reference in ancient texts. Can anyone imagine a Biblical Studies class that doesn't use chapter and verse numbers as reference? In a St. John's seminar on a text, it is essential for a student or tutor to reference the chapter and line number for quoting so that everyone else in the class knows what they are talking about and said passage can be discussed. Until the reference issue is resolved, current translations or not, the electronic editions of the classics will have limited use in the St. John's as well as any other seminar type situation.

20. phdeviate - September 13, 2010 at 11:44 am

I agree with jsener above. Not all having the same translation of translated texts *is* certainly a problem. However, simply enforce the requirement that students *have* the same translations and move on. Having studied a fair bit of Biblical-era literature in translation, I really enjoyed having multiple translations to deal with at once as a student. So absolutely require one translation for the class, but also make some hay out of the other translation. Surely there is something to be said about the difference between, for example:
"Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy." (Butler)
&
"Sing in me muse and through me tell the story of that man, skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end after he plundered the stronghold on the proud heights of Troy." (Fitzgerald)
"Muse, speak to me now of that resourceful man
who wandered far and wide after ravaging
the sacred citadel of Troy." (Johnston)
"Tell me, Muse, of that man, so ready at need, who wandered far and wide, after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy" (Butcher)

Surely there is a difference, and while we can give arguments both for using one edition in class over another and for everyone using the same one, surely having more than one gives us more to talk about, rather than less?

And for the question of page numbers... This too is easily solved once everyone has the same edition. It's known as searching. When the editions are consistent then the word are consistent and everyone can be brought not just to the same page, but to the same line by using the same search feature we rely on so heavily in word processing and other times we must interact with digital texts.

21. phdeviate - September 13, 2010 at 11:59 am

Also, I support @classicalprof's solution to this problem. And the Perseus Project is happy to help with both!

22. interface - September 13, 2010 at 12:54 pm

I love the notion that if any given student finds any given professor "boring," (i.e. can't compete with Two Girls, One Cup for entertainment value), said student should be allowed, -- nay, is morally compelled -- to register a protest against this hideous injustice by playing with any toys s/he's brought into the classroom.

23. codding - September 13, 2010 at 03:08 pm

The "if-the-professors-were-more-interesting-students-wouldn't-be-distracted-on-their-ipads" argument assumes that attention is something that must be coaxed or cajoled. Are we not able to _give_ attention, to focus it on worthy subjects, conversations, and people? And our students, are they not still in a formative stage--trying to learn what is and what is not worthy of their attention? If their choices suggest that facebook is more interesting than (even a less than stellar) lecture or discussion on Homer, for example, would that suggest that there actually is more of worth or value in facebook than a great work of literature?

I don't think educators should see themselves merely as those who compete for the attention of young people, but more importantly as those who inform what a student values and thereby impact what a student deems worthy of his or her attention. In some contexts, electronic devices may be a source of irresistible distractions to the student whose ability to attribute value and worth appropriately (to like what he ought to like as Aristotle said) is still developing. Perhaps an educator, a mentor, or a friend has a responsibility in such cases to do what he or she reasonably can to remove or diminish distractions.

24. chemmilt - September 13, 2010 at 03:43 pm

Strikes me as a bunch of old fuddie-duddies. As long as the sound is turned off, these are quiet--even quieter--than books. And, they don't weigh several pounds and don't make as loud a noise when accidentally dropped on the floor.

25. maxwellaustin - September 13, 2010 at 04:27 pm

Amen, codding. The libertarian ideology that comes to the fore in so many of the comments in the Chronicle about technology in the classroom is too often beholden to the idol of student choice uber alles. As a graduate of St. John's College, I'm happy to see that the College, whatever the merits of this particular decision, has made this decision with the quality of seminar discussion as its principle. Claims that we faculty simply need to suck it up and learn to entertain students so to more effectively compete with technological devices betray far more than naive technophilia. These claims place technological products on the same level as persons. According to this line of individualist thought, hey, if my professor/classmate/boss/co-worker bores me then it is my prerogative to tune out with my sacred object until such time as I deem fit to bestow my attention upon the other people around me. The word "college" is derived from collegium, the Latin word for society, and here is another sad sign that the older communitarian vision of higher education is being transformed into just another consumer product that the individual buys. I use technology in my classrooms, but the minute experience shows me that that technology hinders interaction between the students and me is the minute that I will unplug the devices, period.

26. john36 - September 13, 2010 at 06:20 pm

As a graduate of St. Johns, and a teacher since 1960, ,secondary and Jr. College, retired, I read the posted comments with amusement and some sadness. It is quite obvious that all but one have no idea of the operation of the classes and seminars as well as the teaching and learning techniques.

It is interesting that when PBS broadcast the series on the bi-centenial, Mortimer Adler told the moderator that there was really only one college that one could turn to and find the students with in-depth knowlege of the content and intent of our consitiution, St. John's.


27. rivenhomewood - September 13, 2010 at 07:36 pm

I can understand wanting the entire class to use the same translation, but the article seems to imply that older translations like Chapman or Pope are somehow less reliable. Given a choice of poetry or literal translation, I'll take poetry nearly every time.

28. rivenhomewood - September 13, 2010 at 07:40 pm

classicalprof -- My understanding is that St Johns students do learn Greek and read Homer in the original. It's one of the features of their unique program.

29. goxewu - September 13, 2010 at 09:49 pm

Am I missing something? What's the point of "discouraging" iPads, Kindles, etc., per se? If a professor can require that all the students in his/her seminar buy the same textbook or the same translation of a work of classical literature in ink-on-paper form, why can't the professor require the same in electronic form? And if the desired translation isn't available in electronic form, then the students have to buy hardcopies, and can't use their e-readers for that particular class. What's the problem?

This all sounds like it boils down to technophobia disguised with a lot of bogus "worry [that] e-readers will draw students' attention away from classroom discussion."

And as to the whining about students playing with electronic "toys" in class because they're bored and the poor professor having to be entertaining: There is a stick, you know, as well as a carrot. If students don't pay attention, they won't do well on exams or write decent papers, and if they don't do those things, they'll flunk. Or is it a dirty little secret that St. Johns to too hard up for students to do that? Just asking.

30. dajones - September 14, 2010 at 05:51 am

Students do NOT all purchase the same translation, and most students review more than one translation before coming to class, which makes for a much richer and more meaningful discussion. Many students will have two translations open in front of them during the discussion so that the variation in translations can be discussed. By the way, the students are required to learn Greek and French so that they can read many of the books in their original language and do the translations themselves. This is no ordinary college and these are no ordinary students. A highly thoughtful and selective admissions process is employed, and class sizes are in the range of 8-12 students so that each student has the ability and responsibility to participate actively in the discussion. Students who do not come prepared for class and who do not contribute to the learning of others, or who do not submit well-written papers or a thoughtful and robust annual thesis are dismissed after their second year. All students must be admitted to the third year based on a comprehensive review of the student's scholarship and in-person meetings between the students and his or her tutors. The student must also pass a comprehensive mathematics exam to demonstrate readiness for then next 4 semesters of calculus. Yes, every St Johns student must complete and do well in 6 semesters of laboratory science and 8 semesters of mathematics, including 4 semesters of calculus....in addition to learning Greek and French and demonstrating reading and translating fluency in each language. All students are required to spend time on campus and in class as part of the admissions process, so students know what they are getting into before enrolling. While this rigorous curriculum isn't for everyone, it is an extraordinary experience for this who do attend. On thus campus, there is no fancy gym or mall like student center, but instead, plenty of places to read and discuss and plenty of chalk boards for working problems. At St. John's the students really do sit around at night and on weekends working problems and discussing the texts, as they understand that their social life and scholarly life cannot be separated. Sure, there are plenty of parties, but the discussions at these parties are centered around the curriculum. By the way, the tutors are required to be able to teach every class in the curriculum except music, so the tutors must be as capable in translating Greek as they are in performing calculus, which makes this group of professors also quite unusual. The curriculum is well integrated because every tutor will eventually teach every class -except the red chorus and music class. I would encourage you to visit the St. John's campus (there are two) to see this for yourself. St. john's is quite an amazing and extraordinary place that graduates quite amazing and extraordinary people.

31. goxewu - September 14, 2010 at 09:15 am

St. John's in Annapolis is a wonderful and unique school. I know a grad who says it's the best college education on the face of the Earth.

But, the hyperventilation of #30 aside, a couple of remaining questions:

1. If St. John's students "do NOT all purchase the same translation and most student review more than one translation before coming to class," then what's the problem, as per a couple of other comments, with iPads and e-readers with differing translations on them being used in class?

2. What's the problem--at St. John's or at other colleges about which commenters might complain--with a professor's using the "stick," i.e., a failing grade or its equivalent, instead of trying to be competitively entertaining, as a method of, to use the language of St. John's in the post, "discouraging" students from playing video games or doing e-mail, etc., in class?

A thought: If, somehow, the original format of ink-on-paper is so important in a Great Books program, shouldn't the more ancient texts be part of a prerequisite Great Scolls program?

32. maxwellaustin - September 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Let us suppose for a moment that the "stick" is the tool of last resort, rather than the first, and that we as faculty want our students to succeed. This requires more than a putatively neutral stance towards students in which we simply exhort them to sink or swim on their own merits. Rather than just relying upon the threat of failing grades to motivate students, faculty do far better to set prior ground rules that make it easier for students to engage in class participation. The carrot and stick approach is better for pack animals than it is for human beings seeking a liberal education. I have no problem with Kindles or IPads in a classroom if they are used for purposes consistent with the learning goals of the class, but the deeper pedagogical issues involved here are too often ignored. This is at root a pedagogical issue, rather than a technological one, and the charges of technophobia hurled around in various Chronicle fora miss that point.

33. kathden - September 14, 2010 at 05:59 pm

maxwellaustin--
Amen! The standard operating principle in these comments is ignoratio elenchi.

34. libartphil - September 14, 2010 at 07:35 pm

Most of the students at SJC are there precisely because they want to avoid the environment of the modern research university and its form of education that Barr and Buchanan diagnosed as a failure almost 80 years ago. (Borrowing from Hutchins "And our universities present themselves to our people in this crisis either as rather ineffectual trade schools or as places where nice boys and girls have a nice time under the supervision of nice men and women in a nice environment.") They want to learn in a genuine "learning community." They want to discuss books and ideas not play with their cell phones under their desks. They are serious students engaged in the last true liberal arts college. I would bet the vast majority of them support the faculty's decision precisely because they know from their own experience how easy it is for SJC to become the sort of high school other college students are condemned to attend.

35. jffoster - September 15, 2010 at 07:12 am

Re 34's first sentence, and some other comments about what St. John's College students want. Back in Suymmer 1979 I spent a week on the Sta. Fe campus, at an Archaeo- and Ethnoastronomy conference. I had known a little about SJC before and read the literature about it they put in each conferor's folder. And I started wondering what kind of student went to St. John's. As it June was, there were no students around for me to ask. But the answer was on campus -- though it took me more than a day or two to realize it.
It was a newspaper stand, right outside the door of my barracks -- er, dormitory. It turned out to be the only newspaper stand on campus. Was it the Albuquerque Journal? Nope. One of the local Santa Fe newspapers -- it is the state capital after all. Nope. It wasn't even the Pueblo Chieftain, a widely read newspaper in the four corners area. Nope, the one newspaper stand on campus at St John's, Santa Fe, in 1979 wasn't any of these. It wasn't even the New York Times.

It was the Wall Street Journal.

36. goxewu - September 15, 2010 at 08:04 am

Re #32:

I wasn't advocating the "stick" as a first line of defense against the student who--according to one or two comments--thinks it's the professor's job to be entertaining enough to wean him/her away from playing on the Internet in class.

I was merely suggesting that, if the student has any genuine desire to learn (and at St. John's, especially, the students are allegedly off the charts about that) or if there's any kind of evaluation of the student's performance in that class (grades, written evaluations, letters of recommendation or the lack thereof, etc.), then a desire not to perform substandardly should be sufficient reason for a student not to diddle on his or her iPad or laptop during class time.

If it's not, then there's something wrong with the student as college material (especially at St. John's), or there's something wrong with the way the faculty cave in to students who demand that their professor be more "entertaining" than their iPads or laptops in order to pay attention in class.

37. thopkins - September 16, 2010 at 11:49 am

I wasn't a student at St. John's College, but I attended an Alumni Seminar Program with my wife, who is one. It was done in the same format as the Seminars for students.
Most people don't understand how St. John's College seminars work.
There are 17-20 students arranged around a table, with 2 Tutors in each class. It's not a lecture where you have the rockstar teacher up front up front performing, it's a close read and discussion of a specific part of a text with the Tutors guiding. Email and Solitaire aside, a student with an E-Reader would find it difficult to keep up with the constant page flipping and switching between translations. The class format is intimate, the Tutor is no further than 10 feet from you, so they will know if you are not paying attention.
There is also a question of technology in the seminar room itself. When I was there a few years ago, I was surprised to see that the most high tech piece of gear in the room was the thermostat. No projector, no computer in the corner, none of the typical technology loadout of what most people think of when they hear the word classroom.
Please note also the careful distinction that they don't care what you do outside of the classroom, so you can have it on your E-Reader outside of class. Also, what is their policy on already established technology, such as laptops, smart phones and cellphones? If they are banned or told to have them turned off, a ban on them would just be an extension of that policy. To only consider them to be discouraged is quite a leap I believe for them.
But considering the format of the classroom, I see the student with the E-Reader at a disadvantage to a conventional book.

38. timewaster123 - September 27, 2010 at 03:15 pm

I would also like to register a complaint about people with laptops being distracting when they do other junk in class and display this distracting "screen junk" to those sitting behind them. (Although you'd think that they wouldn't do this in front of their TA, but boy, you'd be wrong... Apparently no student has ever heard of a laptop screen privacy sticker.)

In thinking about it, I prefer the ipad, because then I probably won't see all the ADD emailing and webpage surfing, assuming horizontal positioning of the device. I don't care about whether those students ruin their own learning, but it is unfair on their classmates to put these added distractions into play.

Sorry, mildly tangential but that's my $0.02

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