Profs consider ban on in-class laptops

Profs consider ban on in-class laptops

By Kimmy Nevas

The use of computers during class time is prompting some professors at area institutions to ban the Internet – or laptops altogether – from their classrooms.

According to a report earlier this month in The Boston Globe, professors at Babson College, Harvard University and Suffolk University have taken steps to limit students’ classroom computer use.

Northeastern does not have a university policy regarding the use of computers during class, said Leslie Hitch, director of academic technology services. Hitch said she has not heard complaints from professors about laptops in class, though she has been asked by some whether Northeastern has a general policy.

At Bentley College in Waltham, professors have been able to turn off Ethernet ports and block Internet access in classrooms since 2001, said Phillip G. Knutel, director of Academic Technology, Library and Resource Services and an assistant professor at Bentley.

“We didn’t set up wireless networks in the classrooms until last fall, until we got the system working to enable professors to temporarily block access,” Knutel said.

“It’s basically the equivalent of the professor saying, ‘We’re going to take an exam now, close your textbook.’ The professor should be able to decide what the class is going to do that day. I don’t know of any student dictating an agenda to the professor,” Knutel said.

“We didn’t want to completely ban Internet access during class time. Some professors don’t mind, and some rely on Internet resources during class time,” he said. “We wanted to leave it open to the professor to decide when a tool like the Internet was useful.”

Knutel added that if students are using the Internet during class, they are not participating in class discussions. As a result, he said everyone loses out on an exchange of ideas. He said Bentley’s Internet-blocker is seeing some use.

“We’ve never actually done any study of how many of the faculty are using it. There’s no way to know what percentage, but the system has been engaged several thousand times since we’ve had it out,” he said.

Currently, the only Northeastern classroom building fully equipped for wireless Internet is Dodge Hall, Hitch said. The College of Business Administration is requesting incoming freshman bring laptops to class.

Graduate business administration student Urmi Trivedi said most of the students in her Dodge Hall classes bring their laptops, but that she can see many checking e-mail and instant messaging.

“Northeastern shouldn’t have a policy at the graduate level for computers, but maybe for undergrads,” Trivedi said. “But I believe we should have wireless in all buildings.”

Northeastern political science professor Rachel Ellett said she disagrees.

“There should not be wireless access in classrooms. I taught at Bentley, but I didn’t know I could block the Internet,” Ellet said. “But students were doing everything online while I was trying to teach.”

Middler human services major Jen Martin owns a laptop, but does not bring it to class. How students decide to use their class time should be up to them, she said.

“I think they shouldn’t be able to stop them [students] from using the Internet in during class. But if you’re going to be on the computer the whole time, you probably shouldn’t come to class anyway,” Martin said.

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