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Too much tech in classrooms? BSU students say potential electronics ban a buzzkill

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Bethany Wesley

BEMIDJI — The potential of banning electronic devices in Bemidji State University classrooms is not gathering a lot of “likes” from students.

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“We all understand that it can be distracting and maybe that hinders the learning experience or the teaching experience, but overall, we just feel like this proposed policy would kind of be taking a step back on our campus,” said Kari Cooper, co-president of the Bemidji State University Student Senate.

The Student Senate on Wednesday discussed draft language of a possible administration policy that would empower faculty members to prohibit the use of electronic devices in their classrooms.

“This really is just a conversation that has been started,” said Scott Faust, director of communication and marketing for BSU.

Cooper said students often use laptops and tablets in class, whether it be for taking notes, following along with PowerPoint presentations or reading e-textbooks.

“Although we understand the concerns about cell phone usage and maybe teachers don’t want their students on Facebook, there has to be a better compromise,” Cooper said.

The Student Senate is now working to write a formal response encouraging university administration to explore alternatives to such a policy, she said.

Chris Brown, president of the BSU Faculty Association, said Martin Tadlock, provost and vice president for academic affairs, developed the draft language in response to some faculty concerns and had passed it around campus to gather feedback.

The BSU Faculty Association has not considered the proposed policy yet as it is still in draft form, Brown said.

“I’m proud of the Senate for being engaged,” Brown said.

Speaking for himself, as a professor of computer science, Brown said he asks his students to keep their cell phones on vibrate during class and has not seen a great problem with disruptive electronics in classes.

Word spreads quickly

Faust said Tadlock introduced the topic during a Monday cabinet meeting, which the student co-presidents attend. From there, the issue quickly spread across campus.

“We’re not sure what will come of this, but it’s at least an important conversation,” Faust said, noting that administration now knows students feel “strongly about their opportunity to use these tools” during class.

The important point moving forward, he continued, is to continue the conversation to develop ways to foster classroom atmospheres that are conducive to learning and respectful to all involved.

A petition has been created at Change.org asking BSU adminitration and faculty to not support such a policy.

Cooper, who started the petition, said she is not trying to create an uprising or anger students, but to educate them to the potential of such a proposal.

“Students have very, very strong opinions on this and I don’t feel the policy is the way to go,” she said. “This is definitely something we need to resolve.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had gathered 114 supporters.

Tadlock could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. However, a post from BSU administration on the Change.org petition site stressed the draft language is not a formal proposal at this time.

“The proposed language is not a proposed policy. It is wording that a faculty member could CHOOSE to include on a syllabus in some courses if the faculty member believes there is a need to include such,” wrote BSU Administration and Faculty. “Faculty members are free to modify the language any way they wish, but we were asked to provide some suggestions for them. It did not come from all faculty but from a few who have a concern that students are being distracted in class and distracting others via use of electronic devices unrelated to the learning environment.”

Specifically, some faculty members have expressed concerns that students are on Facebook and Twitter, browsing the Internet and text-messaging when they should be engaged in class, which can be disruptive to other learners, the post said.

Cooper said she understand that, but believes such a policy feels more appropriate for a high school setting, whereas college students should be treated as adults.

Beyond that, she said it would be a move in the wrong direction as BSU, with wide-ranging sustainability efforts, has been making great strides to reduce students’ paper waste.

Without electronics, she continued, students would be unable to use e-textbooks and would have to print out much more paper material for classes.

She added that such a policy would antiquate BSU when universities such as Winona State provide their students laptops and tablets upon entry.

“I understand the faculty’s concerns,” she said. “I just want everyone to have a real positive experience at BSU. I know, as a student myself and interacting with students, that this policy would create a kind of negative vibe on campus.

“We need to work harder and take a step back and think of a better solution for students.”

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