I was recently asked by our Provost for a “universal term” that included everything: cell phones, ipods, gameboys, pagers, etc. The plan was to include a statement in the universal course syllabus prohibiting the use of [insert universal term here] in class.
I responded with a question: “Would laptop computers be allowed in the class?”
I can not think of any functionality available in a personal-electronic-mobile-hand-held-device that is also not available on a laptop.
- music: iPod/mp3 player/iPhone = iTunes, Helix, Windows Media Player, Real Player, web pages, Quicktime, etc.
- phone calls: cell phone/Blackberry = Skype, Yahoo voice, Viatalk, etc.
- texting: PDA/cell phones/iPhone/Blackberries = e-mail, IM, chat, discussion forms, blogs, etc.
- movies: DVD players/iPods/iPhones = Windows Media Player, Quicktime, RealMedia, YouTube, BlipTV, etc.
- games: DS/Gameboy/PSP = online games (MMORPG), computer games (CD/DVD), etc.
So what is it that our polices are tying to manage: devices or disruptions?
I believe we are actually trying to eliminate disruptions; that cell phone call in the middle of class, a student talking on the phone, music playing so loud we can just hear the base pumping from the earphones, etc. Yet these are all disruptions independent of technology. We wouldn’t tolerate someone outside the class to yell to a friend inside the class “Pat, hey Pat, are you in there, Pat come here” (analogous to a a ringing phone – in fact that is my ring tone), we would probably also stop two students from talking during class (analogous to a phone conversation), we would also probably stop a student from singing, tapping their feet or humming if it became disruptive as well.
And what about legitimate uses of technology in the classroom (beyond ADA issues):
- A student with a laptop could be IMing a friend or typing, diligently taking notes.
- A student could be shopping online or researching a topic under discussion (anyone hear of Google Jockey’s?).
At the same time I was asked to come up with a catch-all term, the campus was implementing an Emergency Notification System, NY-Alert. With NY-Alert, in the event of an emergency, the campus can send out a message that is transmitted to phones as voice and/or as text. So while we were ready to deploy a notification system that relied on communication with the students through their personal-electronic-mobile-hand-held-device we were also telling them that these devices would not be allowed in class. Let’s just hope nothing ever happened during classes!?!? Does this make us liable for any damage or injuries?
Considering that the issue is really disruptions, not the devices, and that policies are already in place for disruptions perhaps a policy like: “All personal-electronic-mobile-hand-held-devices must be turned off during class” could be changed to, “No disruptive behavior will be tolerated within the class.”
Based on this, students can leave their phones on, we keep open our channel of communication, we avoid the issues of liability, and faculty have options should a student’s phone go off in class.