Evan Schwartz: In search of a policy for PCs

The beginning of the semester here at GW requires students not only to start five new courses but also to learn the idiosyncrasies of five different professors. It is sometimes easy to forget that professors are people too, with their own lives and schedules and quirks, and like other human beings, they are entitled to their own opinions, especially when it comes to classroom protocol. But too often, a student has to deal with as many as five divergent opinions on the use of laptops in class, online posting of assignments, or whether teachers can be reliably reached by e-mail. A unified university policy on technology would go a long way towards making class a little more student-friendly.

The first issue, and probably the most contentious one for professor-student relationships, is the lack of a school-wide policy on laptop use in class. Some professors include in their syllabi multi-paragraph entries admonishing the use of computers to take notes, roiling against Facebook usage in class. Other professors simply don’t care and students can take notes how they want. While student distraction is certainly an issue when it comes to laptop use, professors should understand that their students can be just as disconnected without electronic stimuli. Claiming that computers cause students to become distracted fixates on students who use their computers for evil purposes and punishes those who simply take better notes while typing.

If a professor is willing to give A’s to anyone who earns them, why does he or she care how his or her students use technology to earn those grades? The classroom is never a level playing field. Some students take better notes on papers. Some students have learning disabilities. Some students are better suited to different subjects and some students have more extracurriculars taking up their time outside the classroom. Students should be allowed every tool at their disposal. And please, treat us like adults – we are all here to learn, and paying attention in class is our prerogative.

But what about the use of technology when it comes to other issues like receiving assignments, submitting papers and even communicating directly with professors? While it is understandable that a math assignment cannot be submitted electronically with the same ease as a paper, GW still contains far too many teachers who seem to be outright luddites when it comes to dealing with e-mail and other technology. The University should make it a priority to not only dole out e-mail addresses to professors, as they do now, but also to ensure that teachers are always reachable electronically, or at least within 48 hours of e-mailing. Office hours are a terrific way to interact with a professor, but GW students have jobs, internships and other classes that can often conflict with a weekly two-hour window. In an age where we can electronically communicate in the blink of an eye, it is counterintuitive for some professors to stick to things like phone calls or, God forbid, old-school mail boxes.

If the University implemented a school-wide policy on technology, we would have one fewer conflict between professors and students. Barring GW students from taking notes on their laptops might just be a return to the days of George Washington himself.

The writer, a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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