Belmont Abbey freshmen to receive iPads as aid to learning
BELMONT — Introduction of new technology into the educational sphere can sometimes prompt questions about whether it might help or hinder students' learning. This has been the latest discussion at Belmont Abbey College, where the administration has decided to give each incoming freshman an Apple iPad starting this fall.
The thin, portable computers will be a learning aid as well as a recruitment tool for the small Catholic liberal arts college near Belmont, college leaders say.
Pictured: Aric Rodgers uses his iPad to take notes in a theology class at Belmont Abbey College. (Ross McKnight | Catholic News Herald)
Dr. Lucas Lamadrid, dean of student affairs, says, "As an admissions idea, I wondered whether giving the traditional-aged freshman an iPad would make a difference in having prospective students look at the college. My goal was to have the prospect take a second or third look. I inquired among the current students in a rather informal way, and they said that it would make a great difference."
The iPads are to be funded by the tuition deposits of prospective students who have decided not to attend the college. Dr. Lamadrid points out, "If it helps students to come to the Abbey, to learn at the Abbey, to pray and grow at the Abbey, then it is a positive development."
But might the iPads be helpful, or distracting?
Dr. Travis Cook, assistant professor of political philosophy, says he thinks the iPads may be very useful to students, but he emphasizes that pursuing technology should not be an end in itself.
"I myself have used an iPad in my scholarly life to read documents that were otherwise difficult to obtain. They can be very useful," he says, but he adds, "I have two worries: First, will they become toys? And second, have we thought enough about the purpose such tools are to serve? If we are controlling the iPad, good, then it is a tool. But should such technology become an end in itself, should educators begin to shape what they teach in order to accommodate the iPad, this might harm rather than help liberal education."
Dr. Al Benthall, assistant professor of English, compares use of the iPad to writing, recalling that, "Even Socrates says ... that there's nothing inherently wrong with writing, as long as the text is discussed and interpreted by the living voice of one who understands how to read it aright. ... Can modern technologies eclipse wisdom and lead people astray? Absolutely. Need they do so? Absolutely not. Much will depend on how we develop and apply the virtues of temperance, prudence and, ultimately, wisdom."
And Benthall quotes Marshall McLuhan, a "media critic and Catholic convert," who wrote concerning a similar issue: "To raise a moral complaint about this is like cursing a buzz-saw for lopping off fingers."
Sophomore Darren Balkey says he thinks the iPads will be an asset for incoming students. "All technology ... is contingent on the user. We aren't going to give away iPads and instill great study skills, but I'm not going to say that people won't be able to access information more quickly."
Much of the talk surrounding the arrival of the iPads on campus relates to the Benedictine college's mission of education in "mind, body and spirit." The goal of the liberal arts is to teach universal and transcendental truths, and many wonder what real impacts this new tool might have.
For Dr. Lamadrid, "The iPad is a tool. In and of itself it will not make you smarter, more virtuous or holier. Neither will a book accomplish such feats. But if the student is well-formed and uses the iPad well, it can help one along the journey."
— Ross J. McKnight, correspondent
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