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The freedom to Facebook in the classroom

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A proposal that would prohibit the use of laptops in classrooms for anything other than school-related activities is being reviewed.

Laptops and cell phones permeate every aspect of campus life, and the implications of these technologies are becoming more prominent than ever before. Many students use technology for academic purposes, but just as many use it to keep themselves entertained during boring lectures by surfing the web, playing games or Facebooking.

The question of how this affects students' performance in the classroom has long been discussed, and with the rampant growth of technology use, the issue has come to a head.

The Programs Coordinate Committee is reviewing a new proposal, put forward by University of Calgary professor Ryan Lee, which looks at limiting the use of technology in the classroom. As it stands, the proposal would prohibit the use of laptops in classrooms for anything other than school-related activities, banning activities such as checking Facebook, watching movies or chatting with friends. The use of cell phones in class would also be regulated, with students having to either turn off their phones or put them on silent/vibrate and refrain from using phones during class. It would be at the professor's discretion as to whether or not a certain activity is considered disruptive, and therefore subject to the policy.

The policy aims to strike a balance between allowing students a measure of freedom and keeping the classroom as distraction-free as possible.

Students' Union vice-president academic Meg Martin said she supports the policy as it stands.

"Not only does it provide a support for professors and instructors in maintaining an environment [that] is conducive to learning, it makes the standard that is expected clear and transparent," said Martin.

However, the potential for such a policy becoming restrictive is an ever-present concern.

Both Harvard University and the University of Chicago's Law School have restrictive policies that empower professors to completely shut off internet access in the classroom, with some professors even banning laptops and cell phones completely.

While she supports the current policy, Martin noted a more restrictive policy would be a different issue altogether, and that the policy must be kept reasonable to protect students.

"Students are adults, just as professors and instructors are, and they need to be treated as such," she said.

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Comments

At the heart of this discussion is the unwritten contract between the professor and the student. The student's side of the deal is to pay attention and the professor's side is to present the material in an engaging way. The problem isn't with Facebook or technology in the classroom. It is with student attention or a boring professor. Removing cell phones or laptops will not remedy this problem. An inattentive student will continue to doodle endlessly or daydream through lectures. Poor professors will continue on with random drivel.

Using a laptop in class is an invaluable asset for me in learning. I can type faster than writing, keep my eyes on the lecturer, and generally bring in more information this way. AirUC is amazing in that I can rifle off a quick search for anything related to the lecture. No more writing down a followup note and losing track of it.

University lectures have always been what the student makes of them. Don't take away valuable assets from students because of a few people that get distracted.