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Bemidji State Grapples with Appropriate Use of Technology

By David Teeples

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Just as the semester began, rumors of a proposed policy that would ban “electronic communication devices” in the classroom sparked an online petition and a conversation throughout campus.  Student Senate co-president Kari Cooper began an online petition on change.org that gained 147 supporters and a lengthy response from University Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Martin Tadlock.  Tadlock maintains that the policy is not being proposed, but is simply language that faculty can use in their syllabi if they choose.  Still many are upset about the policy and feel it would discourage the way they learn.

Tadlock said that the language used in the policy is from a similar policy in place at Missouri State.  Basically it states, “unless otherwise approved by the course instructor, the use by students of electronic communication devices which may include cell phones [and] computers… during scheduled classes is prohibited.”  Tadlock said he looked at the Missouri State policy in response to faculty questions about how to deal with the distraction of cell phones in the classroom.  “The deans wanted to have a conversation in response to faculty concerns,” he said.  Adding that not only is this difficult to monitor in large lecture courses and distracting to the professor and other students, it has potential for people to cheat on exams by Googling answers, or taking photos of quizzes to share.

slide2“We have no intent to establish a policy right now,” he said, “faculty already can ask students to not use technology in the classroom.”

Cooper said there was a better way to solve the issue than to create a policy.  Since starting the petition online and talking to students about the issue she has heard overwhelming opposition to any ban on technologies in the classroom from students.  “I saw the petition as a way to get the word out and I appreciate everyone who signed it and shared it,” she said, “it needs to happen more often.”

Tadlock was somewhat surprised by the large student response, but was also pleased that a conversation had been started about the issue.  “This is not a ban or a policy, it is intended to be a conversation about the appropriate use of technology in the classroom,” he said.

Cooper now is urging students to prove to the faculty and administration that they can use technology in the classroom responsibly.  “This is a big enough issue that faculty have approached the administration,” she said, “we need to take this on ourselves as students and be more responsible with our technology use.”

Drew Graham, an assistant professor in the department of technology, design and art, said that he has never had much of an issue with students abusing technology in the classroom.  In his courses, technology plays a huge role, especially when working on developing applications, “when students are more familiar with the technologies, the easier it is to teach,” he said.

Graham also said learning when to appropriately use technology, “is not just in the classroom, it is a whole cultural thing.”

This feeling was somewhat echoed by Tadlock, who said that learning how to appropriately use technology would not only improve classroom learning, but improve the BSU community as a whole.  “Walking around campus I notice people distracted continuously by the technology in their pockets,” he said.  “We have an obligation to get people prepared for the workplace… becoming aware of when to appropriately use technology is part of that,” he added.

Still, many students on camtpus do not see technology as an issue in the classroom.  Sophomore Abbey Nelson said, “It doesn’t bother me if people want to use their phones in class, it is only taking away from their learning.”  She said that she has used her phone in class for learning purposes, and to shoot a quick text during class.  Nelson also feels a ban would not solve the problem, saying, “I think people would still do it.”

Ultimately, a university policy banning technology probably will not happen, but professors still have the choice to prohibit the use of certain technologies in their classrooms.  “They [the administration] listened to us, we should return the favor by being good stewards of the technology we use in the classroom,” said Cooper.  Tadlock added that BSU is not against the legitimate use of technology and “has been recognized for how we [the university] use technology effectively.”  It all comes down to balancing between enhancing classroom learning through the use of technology with the distraction that can accompany it.