Paul L. Caron

Monday, November 29, 2010

Should Profs Walk Out If Students Text or Use Facebook in Class?

Inside Higher Ed, Should Profs Leave Unruly Classes?:

Professors routinely complain about students who spend class time on Facebook or texting their friends or otherwise making it clear that their attention is elsewhere. But is it acceptable for a faculty member to deal with these disruptions by walking out of class?

Two years ago, a Syracuse University professor set off a debate with his simple policy: If he spots a student texting, he will walk out of class for the day.

Now two faculty members at Ryerson University, in Toronto, sparked discussion at their institution with a similar (if somewhat more lenient) policy -- and their university's administrators and faculty union have both urged them to back down, which they apparently have.

The Ryerson professors' policy was first reported last week in The Eyeopener (the student newspaper) .... Two professors who teach an introductory engineering course in chemistry jointly adopted a policy by posting it on the courses' Blackboard sites. ... [T]he professors said that after three warnings about disruptions such as cell phone discussions and movies playing on laptops, the professors would walk out of class -- and students would have to learn the rest of that day's material themselves.  ...

The student newspaper described a chaotic environment in the class where the faculty members made the threat to walk out, with loud chatting among students and even paper airplanes being shot around the room. ...

Janet Mowat, a spokeswoman for Ryerson, issued a statement on behalf of the university that rejected the approach used by the professors. "Ryerson University does not endorse faculty members threatening to abandon their class if the class is unruly nor does the university endorse arbitrarily raising the bar for tests in the middle of the semester."

While Ryerson appears committed to dealing with these issues without professorial walkouts, Laurence Thomas, a professor of philosophy at Syracuse University, said that he's sticking with his ultimatum about students who text, although he sometimes gives a warning for the first offense he spots. He said that since Inside Higher Ed covered his policy, he shows students that article on the first day of class.

Update:, How to Handle Classroom Chaos?

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NO! you do not walk out- it is immature and disrespectful to the other students who pay good money for the lecture. You may have to ask the student to leave if he or she has more important matters such as texting to attend to at this time. You never walk out as it shows you are as immature as the student who is texting and your lack of concern to the other students in the class.

Posted by: Nick Paleveda MBA J.D. LL.M | Nov 30, 2010 8:02:57 AM

How can universities make professors accountable to students for the education services professors are supposed to provide to students but not put the students at obvious risk for bad grades when they find fault with those services? I can fire the yard man if my grass dies and the lawn gets full of weeds, but students cannot take exception to anything that professors do without the real threat of retribution to their GPA.

I suggest, without any realistic expectation that it will happen, that subject matter be taught by one set of professors and that testing for the subject matter be performed and graded by a different set of independent testers.

I once taught CPA review courses and students evaluated me for the college that hired me, but the students were tested by the State boards and received their CPA scores from them. If I had ever walked out on the students or failed to provide their purchased education services, I would have been fired. It would be nice if university professors were forced to accept the same customer scrutiny and possible fate.

Posted by: Woody | Nov 29, 2010 8:25:42 PM

A skillful professor would subtly provide incentives for the other students in the classroom to ostracize the offender. Oh, but wait, that might offend some interest in "diversity."

Posted by: Jake | Nov 29, 2010 4:36:42 PM

I agree with 3L's comment. If the student is a distraction to the professor or other students, simply ask the student to leave.

Posted by: dtc | Nov 29, 2010 3:15:51 PM

Since professors are going deep into debt for the privilege of student's unwavering affection and attention, they of course have the right to throw tantrums whenever all eyes aren't on them, regardless of how poor their own teaching skills are. It's not like they're being paid to teach or anything, and it's not like they could possibly punish the offenders instead of punishing everyone.

Posted by: Max Kennerly | Nov 29, 2010 2:02:31 PM

Wouldn't it -- you know -- make more sense for the professor to kick the offending student out of class instead?

Posted by: 3L | Nov 29, 2010 1:05:21 PM

Spoiled, tenured primadonnas...

Students are consumers, who are paying top dollar for their educations (including the salaries of their professors). Once students pay tuition, they are entitled to the lecture hours. Whether they choose to take advantage of the lecture or not is their own decision. Are these professors offering to refund the proportional costs of the lecture hours they are denying their students? I thought collective punishment was reserved for prisons?

That being said, I fully support the right of professors to eject any student who is loud or otherwise disruptive of their fellow students' learning experience.

Posted by: Todd | Nov 29, 2010 10:41:33 AM