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In reply. We were delighted with the exchange of ideas and philosophies engendered by the letter to the editor published in the Journal regarding our course policy on use of laptop computers and scribe notes.1 A number of those who read the item made direct contact to share their views, including one correspondent who had heard reports at his institution (unnamed for this purpose) of students “watching porn on the Internet or engaging in online gambling.” Also, several letters have been submitted to the Journal in response to our letter, including one from a group of faculty at the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Drake University, who provided a thorough and thoughtful piece to continue the exchange about this issue.2
Our policy position with regard to access to technology in the classroom is certainly not alone. The August 15, 2010, issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education bore an article about an instructor at the University of West Florida who had declared his summer course in English literature to be “technology-free.”3 More recently, the faculty at renowned St. John's College in Annapolis (a liberal arts college, not a professional school) voted “to discourage students from loading up Homer or Aristotle on their Kindles or iPads and bringing them to seminar.” While the faculty members there stopped short of a total ban on the use of technology, this policy sends the message to students that the faculty members there “are concerned that electronic reading devices also may present a distraction.”4
In the interest of fair balance and disclosure in this discussion, I should note that our college of pharmacy has adopted this policy statement:
Beginning in Fall 2010, incoming and all subsequent University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy students will be required to own and bring a mobile computing device (laptop or Tablet PC) to school.
Access to computers is vital for today's student pharmacist. S/he will need them for class registrations, paying tuition, checking email, completing and submitting class assignments, conducting research, accessing online drug information, and a host of other activities. Some, but not all, instructors will periodically conduct in-class activities that require mobile computers and access to online resources. The new College of Pharmacy Building was designed to accommodate high-speed wireless computing throughout the building. It is our belief that the requirement, coupled with the wireless environment in the new building, will allow our faculty and students to take advantage of the most current digital information in the teaching and learning environment.
Consequently, our course policy is an outlier even at our own college!
Fixation with technology and the anticipation of the impending arrival of a communication from an unknown source can spill outside the classroom in academe. This week I was conducting training sessions for newly appointed student members of the university appeals board at our institution. This is the university-wide entity to review cases or disputes between students and faculty members over course grades, allegations of cheating or plagiarism, etc. Hence, this is an important role dealing with issues of great significance to the students who have filed appeals. Yet one of the new appointees (not a pharmacy student) was unable to complete the training session without frequently consulting her cell phone and even responding to text messages during the meeting!
Some of today's students seem conditioned to be unable to control the impulse to constantly communicate with others electronically. The adoption of the course rule helps to focus students' attention on the undesirability and inappropriateness of this in a professional setting. The old codger in me thinks “Isn't this a sad state of affairs with our students today that they need to have spelled out for them the notion that they should not be engaging in activities that interfere with the learning of others.”
We have heard that some pharmacy employers have a policy or practice of prohibiting use of personal electronic devices by employees during working hours because of the potential distraction they present. Consequently, perhaps it can be argued that our course policy is actually helping to prepare students for such practice environments.
One of the hallmarks of the academy is the free exchange of ideas, a virtue that distinguishes it from any number of any other areas of employment. We are delighted that these course policies, and the piece discussing it, have generated just such a debate over this contemporary issue in higher education in general and pharmacy education specifically. Hopefully, faculty members across the country will consider these issues in a thoughtful manner, like our colleagues at Drake have done, and irrespective of where they end up on the issues, will make pharmacy education better for the exchange.