Case Study in Control and Instructional Design

Posted by Gina Rosenthal in CCK08 | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

My son, who is a sophomore at Bridgewater State College, texted me Friday. He was fuming about an incident in his Intro to Communications class. The teacher has a strict attendance policy: if you miss more than two classes you have 20% deducted from your final grade. My son attends class once a week for three hours (on a Friday, no less). He makes sure he is there.

On Friday, he had his laptop open to take notes. It should be noted at Bridgewater the students are required to purchase a laptop. The professor told Kenny he would be marked as absent for using the laptop to send an email during class.

I’m not sure how this will end. Kenny has an appointment to speak with the Dean of the Communications School. As a parent, I am annoyed that he can be in a Communications course that is being taught by someone who doesn’t know how to use the tools required of the students to teach about communication. As a mother, I am annoyed that Kenny couldn’t just wait till after class to send the email. As an educator, I am dumbstruck that a professor of communications believes this extreme use of control over 19 and 20 year-olds in a 3-hour Friday class is the best way to transfer knowledge. (Surely she understands filters, barriers, etc?)

Those of us who understand the connected nature of the Internet know that it’s possible to pay attention to a lecture and send an email or even IM at the same time. (For the record, Kenny swears he was not IMing, he just had to send an email for his duties as the Student Government Secretary). If this professor was smart, she’d foster the use of a backchannel during her lectures, especially during these marathon Friday sessions. Let the students discuss what you are talking about, be part of the discussion so you can see where you need to adjust your methods.

I can’t do much but encourage my son to use the channels available to him. It’s a real life lesson: sometimes you have bosses that are just like this controlling professor. At least it’s only for one semester. It hardly seems fair that he was actually in class, paying attention and taking notes for three hours, and all that is negated and he doesn’t get credit for it because his duties outside of class required him to send one email.

Here are some questions for all of you:

How would you counsel Kenny to deal with this situation? What should he say to the Dean? How should he act in that professor’s class?

How would react as a parent if you were required to purchase a laptop for your child to attend a state school, just to have teachers discourage them from using the laptops? How would you react if someone was teaching your child the basics of communication theory but they had no insight into the communication methods used by new media? (I have to say for me, this professor’s credibility is definitively suspect.

For my CCK08 friends, how does my son’s situation illustrate the topic of control?

For any of Kenny’s friends who may get here, have you experienced anything similar from this professor?

9 Responses to Case Study in Control and Instructional Design

  1. MadKat97 says:

    Having been on both sides of the desk on this issue, I have a couple of questions.

    1. was the policy concerning laptop use in this professor’s class clearly spelled out in the course syllabus?

    2. Does a instructor have the right to ban electronic devices from their classroom? Laptops? Smart phones? Cell phones? What is the effect of people not paying attention to the lecture/discussion on those who are?

    3. Is the student getting full value from the class if they are simultaneously IMing, texting, emailing, etc.?

    4. What is the responsibility of a student in Instructor-lead training to the class and the instructor? Is it disrespectful to use communicate simultaneously with others whilst attending an ILT?

    Point is: not a clear-cut issue in general. Different situation if the professor was being arbitrary.

  2. Ed Webb says:

    MadKat97’s first question is the key one, given the institutional setting: is there a policy clearly stated that applies here? If not, there is room for negotiation and mutual education.

    From the cck08 perspective: many cck08 participants are at the less authoritarian end of the spectrum of educators, it strikes me, but we have to recognize that many/most others will not share that perspective. This incident shows the absolute priority of communication about expected standards in course design and delivery – the greater the clarity about the obligations on all participants (instructor and learners, in a traditional setting, learning nodes in a networked one), the less room there is for arbitrary exercises of power or the appearance thereof.

  3. gminks says:

    Thanks guys for the comments. MK I am not sure if the policy is stated plainly. She told my son she could tell from his typing patterns that he was emailing and not taking notes. (?) I do know she yelled at a kid sitting near him for playing games, but didn’t dock him attendance points (and the kid went back to playing games).

    Ed, to your point I totally agree with have some people on the far side of what can be realistically implemented in any instructional CCK08 setting.

    And to both of you, I know my son can be a bit dramatic — so him learning a lesson will suck but it is what it is.

    I am more concerned that he is not being prepared for the real future. Why aren’t they teaching him, in a *communications program* how to use online resources effectively? Why do they require laptops if they can’t use them in the class, and if instructors are not designing curriculum to use them?

    I mean, when they graduate those of us in industry EXPECT them to be able to multi-task. Is requiring students to focus all their attention on one task at at time harming their competitiveness? I’ve been running a Knowledge Worker competency series, there are other such initiatives online (e.g. ), so why aren’t colleges teaching their students these skills? Why are we counting on the fact that they can Facebook and text each other meaning that they are internet-literate? Or are colleges counting on industry to finish this training?

  4. Jenny Mackness says:

    Hi Gina – I love this post – a real education problem that could face any one of us.

    I sympathise with Kenny – I think he is between a rock and a hard place.

    What should Kenny say to his Dean? If he has knowingly broken the rules, then I think he should say so, apologise and try to explain why – something along the lines of practising the ability to multitask which is an essential communication skill in an education system which needs to take account of Web 2.0 technologies. His Dean may need educating, in the most polite, tactful and discrete way, of course!

    How would I react as a parent? I think I would discuss the relationship between making choices and taking the consequences – so if Kenny decides that it’s really important for him to make a stand against teacher’s actions, then he should do this, but be prepared to take what comes. Hopefully he will be able to weigh up the pros and cons of doing this in the context of his whole education setting. In the long run it might not be worth taking a stand against the teacher at this point in time – but worth using it as a learning experience for what he thinks is good teaching and what’s important for him for his learning.


  5. WL says:

    Hmm… this reminded me of a lecturer who barked at a fellow student because the student was fiddling with his pen. Am even more surprised to hear of this in a US institution – thought there is more openness these days. (Ok there are still old style professors out there.) If Kenny was speaking loudly on his mobile phone and distracting the class, I would think that his professor would have reason to be upset … I have known of cases where students are busy finishing up their term papers during other lectures – it shouldn’t be such a big deal and what Kenny did doesn’t deserve to be marked “Absent”. I hope it works out ok for him – tough to have to face “administration” – hope the Dean gives a fair go/hearing.

  6. tomwhyte1 says:

    If the expectations were laid out in the beginning of the course by the instructor, I hate to say it. But it is there classroom there rules.

    However if the rules are modified on the fly by the instructor that is unfair to the student. Students will operate within the necessary boundaries provided by an instructor if they know what those boundaries are.

  7. gminks says:

    Jenny – thanks, good advice.
    WL, he asked for the meeting. I am hoping he goes in there and acts respectful and really tries to make a change.
    Tom, I understand it may be the instructor’s rules, but is that rule reasonable? Does the rule impede learning?

  8. MadKat says:

    If the student next to him who was playing games was not marked as absent, then Kenny certainly has a case that the decision was arbitrary and capricious. Not to mention that “absent” from a classroom ILT has a very specific meaning: you’re physically not in the space. Not paying attention, being disruptive, etc. is a very different circumstance.

    I think he has a case, assuming that he presents his position to the dean in a calm, reasoned, and respectful manner (i.e. that he believes the punishment is not commensurate with the offense).

    And no, I am neither a lawyer nor do I play them on TV.

  9. Steve Todd says:

    It may be old school, but I don’t bring my laptop to meetings or courses/classes. I try and focus my attention on what the meeting is about and engage with the speaker. Another reason I’ve adopted this approach is that my attentiveness to the meeting organizer is much appreciated and helps to build my own influence within my network of contacts (e.g. Steve was not one of the people working on something else during the meeting).

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