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To the Editor. In a recent AJPE Letter, the author presented a number of reasons why certain types of technology have been “banned” from a course at his institution.1 As members of a faculty that have discussed this topic extensively, we write this response to provide another viewpoint with respect to electronic devices. We acknowledge that the underlying issues in cases of misuse of technology surround either maintaining professional behavior or focus in the classroom. However, it is our belief that rather than banning potential distractions, our role as educators is to help students manage them. Classroom distracters have always been problematic in academia; widespread availability of technology has simply provided another medium. We believe that teaching students how to manage technology in a professional way, and how to focus their attention on the task at hand, prepares students for a career that fundamentally functions through wakes of distraction and multitasking, not to mention the adoption of continuous technological advances.
The use of electronic devices in the classroom has been an ongoing discussion at our institution. Until recently, our college did not have specific guidance for faculty members in terms of managing students' use of technology in the classroom. Traditionally, individual faculty members have determined what was appropriate for their courses related to the use of electronic devices in the classroom. Student behavior identified by peers or faculty members as “unprofessional,” including technology issues, have been subject to review and discipline under the college's honor code.
However, the issue of using technology in the classroom has been brought to the forefront of faculty members' discussions alongside other institutional issues, perhaps the largest being a university initiative to “go green.” This initiative has resulted in an increase in the use of laptops in the classroom.
As an academic community, we realized the need to explore further the intertwining of our academic environment with our increasingly technology-dependent health care systems. Therefore, the student affairs committee underwent an internal exploration of faculty members' (response rate 92%; 36/39) and students' (response rate 43%; 356/831) beliefs, attitudes, and current practices with respect to using electronic devices in the classroom. Most faculty members (94%) responded that students currently use electronic devices during class. Of the respondents, many (74%) have witnessed inappropriate or unprofessional conduct. This most often involved text messaging (55%), e-mailing (45%), or viewing non-related Web sites (55%). When asked how issues of technology should be addressed, responses included orientation (87%), student handbook (73%), course syllabus (63%), or a new separate policy (57%). A majority of student responders confirmed that they use an electronic device during class (54%). When asked their primary reason for doing so, students reported taking notes (46%), viewing course material (16%), and searching course-related drug references (27%). When asked about potentially inappropriate activities, 78% had sent a text message, 86% had checked e-mail, 56% had viewed a social network Web site, and 50% had viewed Web sites unrelated to the course.
The survey results indicated that technology use is widespread in the classrooms of our college and that students cite their primary reasons for doing so as being “course related.” Although both faculty members and students report the presence of misuse, we believe that the positive influence of technology outweighs the negative potential. Because our faculty members recognize the potential for misuse of electronic devices, they advocated for formally addressing the topic. Optional course syllabi language was developed with further discussion occurring during the syllabus introduction:
Use of laptop computers and handheld electronic devices (ie, phones, PDAs, iPods, etc) is permitted in class during specified times to assist learning. Any use of any device that leads to distraction from the learning for other students will not be tolerated. Inappropriate use may include viewing online content not related to the class (including social networking sites), text messaging, answering phone calls, viewing video, and listening to music on such devices. Repercussions for inappropriate use are at the discretion of the course instructor and may include (but are not limited to) dismissal from the class session, temporary confiscation of the device, and/or reporting the incident as an Honor Code violation.
Given our recent discussions and the results of our internal exploration and resulting policy recommendation, our philosophy has been to allow technology in the classroom. We believe that colleges should not only allow for, but also plan for, increased integration of technology in the classroom. Under prespecified, consistent guidelines and expectations, we should teach students how to appropriately use technology in professional ways to enhance patient care. We feel that ignoring classroom distracters does not help students learn to function in the current or future health care environments. We are committed not only to teaching students the meaning of appropriate technology use throughout their coursework, but also to directly addressing it through the first-year pharmacy student orientation and student handbook. We believe that a proactive approach to educating students is the best approach for the issues presented by widespread technology.
While we agree that giving one's full attention to a patient is integral to the patient-provider relationship, pretending that technology is not used in the examination room or bedside is a fallacy. Pharmacists use a variety of electronic devices during patient interactions to document progress notes, access electronic medical records, and refer to drug information. The difference is that practitioners and students should be expected to use technology to improve patient care, rather than accessing unrelated activities (eg, e-mail, social networking Web sites).
We should be sending our students out into their professional careers with laptops and electronic devices – but only when they are confident in how to manage technology in a professional manner, with the intent of improving patient outcomes. How else can we make technological advances in health care a widespread reality rather than a lofty goal?
In conclusion, distractions in the classroom will always be present -- now there is just greater variety and easier access. Our college has invited the use of technology along with a commitment to present the consequences of misuse. We intend to continue to monitor technology use in our classrooms, including student use of various types of electronic devices. If necessary, we will continue to conduct environmental scans of our academic community to help facilitate professional use of these devices. We strongly believe academia should be setting a pace for the future of our profession, not lagging behind it - technology included.