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By Mary C. Verstraete, Ph.D.
Modern technology has provided university faculty with so many great tools, from wireless Internet that allows us to show some of the many resources on the Web to our classes, to Facebook apps that make scheduling events and meetings much easier, to databases of available exam questions. In addition to computers, today’s cellphones tend to be the vehicles that allow us to access all of the latest and greatest of these technological advances at the mere swipe of a thumb.
At the same time, however, we are challenged by these technological advances that are literally at our, and our students’, fingertips. As I noted in my Career Toolbox column in the Winter issue of SWE Magazine, “Your Distractions Also Distract Me,” there are negative implications to such ease of connectivity. From cellphone and texting etiquette to cheating in the classroom, electronic devices have introduced a host of questions. How, for example, do we police whether students are doing their own work or copying answers from a website solutions manual? How do we limit access to equations and solutions to problems when students can pull them up on their phones during an exam? What’s more, how do we even explain to this generation that this is cheating when they are used to finding the answer to every question on the Internet? How do we show them that focusing on their phones during class or in a meeting is rude when people in most public arenas are perpetually doing the same thing, in line at the bank, in restaurants, even in church?
What actions can we take to address these concerns? What do you think about the boundaries between public and private space, between engaging in the classroom or workspace and being distracted by personal texts and Facebook updates? What distinguishes rude and self-absorbed behavior from the appeal to be connected in a professional manner?
And, perhaps most of all, in the case of test-taking, why would anyone think it is OK to look up the answers, unless the test is open book — which in many cases would defeat the purpose, if we are mindful of the fact that there is no solution manual in the “real world”? Join the conversation below.