Nathaneal Darrell/the Gauntlet

School looks to unplug students

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Texting friends, perusing Facebook and updating Twitter instead of taking notes while your professor drones on may soon come to an end.

The Academic Programs Committee -- a subcommittee of the General Faculties Council that develops and assesses policy regarding quality and academic programming -- is currently discussing the possibility of a policy surrounding students' use of electronics in the classroom.

"Some professors were feeling like they do not have a lot of power with what happens when a student is being disruptive in a classroom because they are watching a video or something on their computer," said Students' Union vice-president academic Alyssa Stacy. "They think that because there is not a policy, that they can't do anything."

SU Haskayne School of Business representative Chris Palmer thinks the committee needs to carefully consider negatives of the policy.

"Professors must acknowledge that there are huge advantages to technology in the classroom," said Palmer. "Some students are now using their iPhones or their BlackBerries in place of laptops to look at slides for a lecture or to take notes and I think that is great."

He outlined a hypothetical situation where a marketing professor mentions a soccer team.

"For me to jump on my laptop and Google that soccer team or Google their sponsors is of huge benefit," said Palmer. "If you take that away from me, it hurts the classroom discussion, it hurts my ability to participate and it hurts my ability to learn."

According to Haskayne undergraduate program associate dean Ryan Lee, electronic misuse in the classroom is a problem that has recently developed due in part to the higher use of laptops.

"While people may have been using laptops years ago, they may not have access to the Internet," said Lee. "We are starting to observe some of the newer behaviours arising from the jump of technology on this campus and that has created some concerns."

Communication and culture instructor Dawn Johnston thinks the appropriate use for technology in the classroom is to enhance the learning experience.

"I have some students who are using it very effectively, lots of students are using their computers for note-taking and for justifiable purposes," said Johnston. "There are also plenty who are on Facebook the whole class."

Johnston finds it frustrating but doesn't find it nessesary to interfere.

"It is not for me to mandate how students have to use their time," she said.

APC is now asking for feedback from students and faculty regarding the possibility of a policy.

APC chair Erin Gibbs Van Brunschot said the committee will collect the findings and determine where faculty and students stand on the issue.

Options discussed in the document include an official policy that would specify regulations and sanctions.

"By official that would mean coming from the university level down," said Gibbs Van Brunschot. "It could be a part of academic misconduct for example."

The other option discussed was to allow individual instructors to set their own classroom polices.

As of now, it is up to professors to communicate with students what they expect in the classroom regarding electronic use.

Gibbs Van Brunschot said there was a lack of consensus within the committee.

"We don't know what we should do, so that is why we are consulting faculty and student bodies about it," she said.

The SU is not in support of the current policy the committee has drafted, stating it is too specific in its definition of "electronic."

"Having a policy that is so specific is concerning when electronic devices are constantly changing," said Stacy.

The APC's goal is to ensure a productive learning environment.

"The committee is well aware that we are in the 21st century and electronic devices are apart of our society," said Gibbs Van Brunschot. "It is having to deal with the reality of the times, but ensuring the learning environment is protected for everybody."