Classroom tech surveyed at WLU

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In a technology-dependent society where laptops and smartphones have increasingly become the norm, Wilfrid Laurier University, since the beginning of 2011, has been discussing technology’s use in the classroom — a topic that has been receiving mixed opinions from both students and faculty on certain policies and barriers.

On Oct. 19, students and faculty received a survey via e-mail — which is being compiled and researched by the senate committee on instructional development (SCID) – asking them what they thought about technology use and what policies should surround that. Concerns have been raised from faculty about the distracting nature these devices have on students during lectures.

“It’s not looking to create policies that ban certain devices from classrooms, but looking for ways co-operatively in terms of using of those devices to maximize learning,” said Donna Kotsopoulos, an education professor at WLU and the chair of SCID. “We want to create a policy that actually works well for enhancing learning.”

The survey that is currently circulating around the Laurier community will address the current policy the university upholds, and whether or not it should adopt further policies or restrictions. SCID is also researching other universities around Canada and the globe about some of the policies other universities have implemented.

“Really it is a question around, is the student’s attention focused on the activities the instructor deemed appropriate? Are they paying attention? Is it a distraction?” said Tom Buckley, vice president of academic services, noting that a complete ban would be ineffective.

Since the last day to complete the survey is on Oct. 31, the types of policies that the university could implement are undetermined at the current time. “We need to let the committee do its work and wait for them to get all the information that it gets and to let it present senate with whatever it’s recommending as policy, if there are going to be policy changes,” said Deborah MacLatchy, vice president: academic and provost at WLU.

MacLatchy did state that the policies and decisions on whether or not to allow electronic devices in the classroom will be left up to the instructors themselves. Senate will eventually make the final decision on the matter in early 2012.
With so many students now using laptops as tools for note-taking, an outright ban, as Kotsopoulos seem unfeasible. However, questions have arisen about student productivity and the shape of university education as a whole.

Kotsopoulos, along with MacLatchy and Buckley, stated that students need to show discipline when it comes to the inescapable nature of social media.
“I think we’ve come to a point in society where we can’t stop that anywhere,” said Kotsopoulos, adding that research has be done on the effects of social media for students. “It does show that students are distracted from their learning with measurable outcomes to their achievements if they’re engaging certain activities during the course of the lesson.”

Third-year WLU business student Matt Livingstone admitted that laptops can be distracting. “I have very mixed views because it is very distracting, if someone’s playing a game in front of you, or even myself, if I’m distracted with a game,” he said. “By myself and others screwing around on their laptops, realistically you should be paying attention.”

On the other side, Matt Lilja, a third-year business student said, “I had a prof in first year who banned laptops, and I thought it was ridiculous, it really hurt me. I can’t write fast enough.”

Lilja stated that just because a student wastes time on their laptop, doesn’t mean that the class as a whole should be punished.

“There are many people who use laptops purely productively and it’s a huge aid to them and they would struggle without it. I don’t think the actions of a few who are being disruptive should ruin the good intentions of many,” he explained.

As more information is being released about the quality of post-secondary institutions in Canada, Livingstone feels there are more effective ways of teaching that will deter students from using their devices for non-academic purposes in class.

“I think we need to focus more on classroom interaction and less on technology-based learning. More interaction, more discussion, more teacher one-on-one interaction,” continued Livingstone, adding that his best professors have been the ones who use less technology.

“They didn’t use technology, they were just engaging, we would just talk.”
David McMurray, vice president of student affairs, feels that learning should be embracing this technological shift in society. “I don’t believe in forcing anything, prohibition didn’t work right, that’s a good example,” he said.

“Well let’s say you restricted laptops and phones, students need laptops to learn, I’m trying to get away from paper myself,” McMurray continued, adding that teaching should start to use electronic devices effectively as part of the pedagogy.

Even though new policies are possible, Buckley stated that it’s undeniable that technology will be a substantial component to university education.

“This is not about the technology driving the teaching, it’s about teaching and the learning driving the technology,” he said.

“I think education will have to adapt to technology, but so will students,” concluded Kotsopoulos.


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