New technology & classroom/campus behaviour

Dec 01 2010 Published by under education, kids today

A couple of really interesting articles in InsideHigherEd the other day:

Should Profs Leave Unruly Classes?

Now two faculty members at Ryerson University, in Toronto, sparked discussion at their institution with a similar (if somewhat more lenient) policy -- and their university's administrators and faculty union have both urged them to back down, which they apparently have.

The Ryerson professors' policy was first reported last week in The Eyeopener (the student newspaper) and then was picked up by other Canadian publications. Two professors who teach an introductory engineering course in chemistry jointly adopted a policy by posting it on the courses' Blackboard sites. The professors vowed to make tests more difficult, to encourage students to pay attention. And the professors said that after three warnings about disruptions such as cell phone discussions and movies playing on laptops, the professors would walk out of class -- and students would have to learn the rest of that day's material themselves. (Sources could not say whether the faculty members followed through on their treats.)

My take: First of all, this is a really interesting case study, so there's a lot of benefit from reading the whole article and comments.

This is a tough one. I don't condone the idea of "collective punishment" of all the students for the behavior of some. The profs in question should definitely try to get the class under control by some other means. On the other hand, if the two parties can't come to some useful working relationship that both allows the students to express themselves and be comfortable in the classroom and at the same time, gives the profs enough respect and an atmosphere that allows them to focus on presenting the material they need to present, well, I'm not sure what the next step is.

Personally, as a librarian, I enter a lot of classroom environments where I have no status. I come in to do my session, sometimes in a hands-on lab setting but often as a guest lecture in front of several hundred students. I've definitely experience the full range of classroom behavior but I have to say 90% of the time it goes off pretty well. Students either give me a good chunk of their attention or they disengage at least without disrupting what I'm trying to do. I obviously try to be as interesting, engaging and interactive as possible, but there are limits.

This is one of those cases I just don't know what the right thing to do is.

Untouchable Cyberbullies

Cyberbullying is back in the news, and some legislators are trying to get it into the books.

Following the suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi -- who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in September after his roommate allegedly filmed him having an intimate encounter with a man and streamed the video on the Internet -- a pair of New Jersey congressmen introduced a new anti-bias bill earlier this month that would, among other things, make it clear that harassment undertaken via electronic media is just as illegal as the old-fashioned kind. (A similar bill has legislative approval in New Jersey and awaits action from Gov. Chris Christie, who said last week he had not decided whether to sign the bill or seek to "improve it").

The Clementi suicide has also prompted action in another legislative body: the Cornell University Student Assembly, which recently passed a resolution calling for a boycott of CollegeACB -- a gossip website where students post anonymous, sometimes vitriolic comments about their classmates. Noting its aversion to censorship, the assembly called boycott on purely moral grounds. "Students, as citizens of the Cornell community, feel a responsibility to protect each other from libel, defamation, and cyberbullying," reads the resolution, which passed unanimously (with three abstentions).

Yet the question remains as to whether these actions, however empathetic, will actually do anything to stop students from using new media to attack their classmates.

My take: Sigh. Human nature sucks sometimes. That's the problem with bullying. It seems inevitable yet also really hard to control and stamp out.

The role of new media in bullying is also a hotly disputed topic, with danah boyd probably being the most well-known commentator in the space with, for example, "Bullying" Has Little Resonance with Teenagers.

I'm not sure what the answers are either but the problems are real and campus communities need concrete strategies to deal with them. Unfortunately, they won't be the same strategies as for "real world" bullying, but will have to be more flexible and more personal. You probably can't really stop cyberbullying in the same way you can at least attempt to stop real world bullying. The approach needs to be much more focused on making sure that, a) the victims won't put up with it and will seek help and advice and b) the potential perpetrators somehow don't feel the need to impose their will on their victims.

Yep, should be easy.

So, what do you think about the problems of student behaviour in higher education?

2 responses so far

  • Oof. This is indeed a hard one.

    I had a prof walk out of an upper-level undergrad literature course when it became abundantly clear that only two or three people out of a class of 20-odd had made any attempt to do the week's reading (and yes, I was one of the nerds, thanks).

    It made an impression. The class was definitely more diligent afterwards.

  • g724 says:

    Tech & discipline in the classroom: Actually it's really easy.

    Good morning, fellow seekers of enlightenment. Just so we're on the same page, we have a few rules here about electronic devices in class.

    The use of cellphones and text messaging is not allowed. If it's an emergency, they shouldn't be calling you, they should be calling 911. If you have some family or personal circumstance where you may be expecting an urgent call, for example a loved one is in the hospital, sit over there by the door and take your call or message in the hall. If people abuse that privilege for social chat it will be discontinued entirely.

    I encourage note-taking on laptops. However, watching videos other than class material on laptops is not allowed, even with earphones, because it distracts others who may see what's on your screen. If you'd rather watch a movie than participate in the class, do it elsewhere so you don't distract others who are trying to participate. People found watching unrelated video on their laptops will be asked to leave the class for that day and will still be responsible for knowing the material.

    While you're taking notes, I might occasionally say that a particular word in a lecture is a keyword. You might want to type it in as, for example "keyword (whatever-it-is)," so you can find it faster for quizzes and tests. Generally you're not going to need to copy diagrams into your notes, but I'll provide URLs for the diagrams on my website so you can note the URL and take a screen shot of the diagram later when you're plugged into the network.

    Audio and video recording is not allowed without the informed consent of those who you are recording. Breaking this rule is a violation of others' privacy and will result in dismissal from the course with a failing grade. If anyone here thinks we should record the lecture portions of classes, let's talk after class and we can arrange something that meets the need without interfering with freedom of discussion in the classroom.

    There's no smoking in the building, and eating and drinking in class are OK if you need to stay hydrated or keep your blood sugar level up, but try to be reasonable about it and also don't leave litter behind.

    One more thing. Anyone here who can persuade me to change my opinion about a significant item in the course material, based on a rational and factual arguement, gets an automatic A for the course. Don't digress the class with a dialogue, but do give it your best shot.

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