Everyone I know who has pursued graduate study in the humanities has done so, at least in part, because they were enamored with learning, with pursuing the subject matter simply out of love for it. We are idealists, for what could be more idealistic than that?
We step out of that dream into the cold shower of life. I see so many of us, now jaded, few spirits intact. I ponder what might help us preserve idealistic hearts. I know that teaching is a part of the answer, connecting with those, like our younger selves, who have not yet faced the oft harsh realities of life. Beyond that, I have no easy answers, only questions.
We must hone a pragmatic edge, a shield for our tender souls, but do so without a hint of duplicity. We must be sharp as vipers and innocent as doves. We are dolphins in a shark world.
Service learning provides the tools for drawing students out of themselves and out of their potential self-centeredness. This is critical, especially in an age when education is increasingly treated as a commodity and students as consumers. Service learning also holds added benefits for me, the instructor. My teaching should always be other-centered. But in the context of service learning, my teaching can be centered on both my official students and on those whom we serve together. By reflecting on our shared experience, we can grow as members of the same academic community and fragile society. By shifting our orientation from “what can we gain?” to “what can we give?” we have hope of elevating the discussion to matters of lasting importance, doing so with maturity and integrity.
Technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, electronic communication is easier, faster, more various in form, simpler to track and to store. Digital means of discussion and lecture provide convenience for student and instructor alike. Perhaps most importantly, internet-driven forms of student-student and student-instructor contact cater to the strengths of many members of the current generation of first-time college students.
Yet I have failed as an educator if I do not draw my students outside of their comfort zone, even as they draw me out of mine. Technology is a tool, but it is not the only one; and it should not become a crutch. Especially for those of us who teach disciplines in which reflection and introspection are primary, it is perhaps more important for us to find ways of incentivizing time for students to unplug, to face themselves undistracted by the noise of the media in which they are typically immersed, and to face others, giving them the gift of unhurried time.
I am eager to use learning technologies to an increasing degree in the classroom; however, I will do so while simultaneously charging my students to take periodic fasts and retreats from our high quantity, often low-quality culture of electronic communication. They have more to learn from a weekend without email, Twitter, and Facebook than I have to teach on an average PowerPoint.
Today begins the strange adventure of bringing my professional life to the web. My hope is that this will provide a helpful forum for connecting with students and fellow professional educators and researchers. However, this tool could become a diversion from more tried and tested forms of pursuing and sharing knowledge. Time will tell.