By Jake Schild
New technologies have changed the way we live, from communication to accessing information, and people have adopted different ideas on proper etiquette when using these devices.
At Saint Mary’s University, faculty and students seem to have reached a general consensus on what is acceptable in the classroom regarding the use of technology and what is not.
Student Leah Mueller uses her cell phone in class but feels rude when doing so. She doesn’t like in-class cell phone use for things not pertaining to the course.
“I think technology in the classroom is good if it has anything to do with what’s going on in class, but I think personal use is disrespectful.”
Brian Thomas, another student, agrees. Although he admits to using his cell phone “once or twice” during each class period, he doesn’t condone it.
Like Mueller, Thomas feels that students using devices in class for things other than schoolwork isn’t acceptable. “I’ve tried to cut back,” he said. “If you’re teaching a class, you don’t want to feel disrespected.”
Professors at SMU acknowledge the ways new technology can help students but agree with Mueller and Thomas about the ways it can be a detriment.
“Students have to understand our policies, and we need to understand their communication habits,” said public relations professor Dean Beckman, “and that’s what they are: habits.”
“There are different rules for different places, and we all need to be aware of them,” said Beckman. “I think it largely depends on the class. For my Public Relations Writing class, I encourage the use of Twitter and blogs; in fact, I require it.
“But that’s different [than most classes] because [it’s] specifically designed for students to learn those communication tools in a more professional setting,” he said.
Many classes here aren’t set up in a way that are conducive to those technologies being used in the classroom, said Beckman. “I think they have their place, but I think there are also places where it’s more of a distraction or harm then anything else,” he said.
“I think it largely depends on the situation and how comfortable the faculty member is,” he said. “If there is a clear tie-in to the class, I think there’s a legitimate reason for it. But if it doesn’t fit within the scope of the class, I think the faculty member needs to know what works and what doesn’t.”
Sociology professor Matt Klosky agrees. “I’m all for technology as long as it’s not a distraction,” said Klosky. “The distinguishing characteristic is the distraction factor.”
Klosky also sees changes in college students’ social lives with the possibilities that emerge from cell phones and other devices, and not all of them are good.
“If you stand outside of any class and watch the students leave a classroom, easily half of them, if not 75 percent, are on devices checking a text message, a Facebook update, an email,” he said.
The distinction Klosky sees is that ten years ago when he taught, people would discuss the content of the course as they were walking out the door. Today, they’re not interacting with people that are right next to them, said Klosky.
This is detrimental to academic engagement, Klosky said. “I get the sense that they are more focused on what happened outside of the classroom in the last hour than what happened inside the classroom,” he said.
Similar to Beckman’s and Klosky’s thoughts on the issue, philosophy professor Mark Barber sees these new technological opportunities as both a gift or a curse on campus.
“If our lives are web-based, then the time I’m spending online is time I’m not spending, say, with other people, having interaction,” said Barber, which is one of the reasons he said he doesn’t like the internet much.
“However, I do think that in our educational setting, the technology can provide us appropriate learning tools,” Barber said. “It’s a way for faculty and students to communicate and to have access to a common set of documents at any time, and I think that has helped. I think that’s good for the class.”