The prohibition is the result of a pilot program run by Purdue during the fall that blocked student access to five streaming sites in four lecture halls. Since then, the program has been extended to other academic spaces on campus and the list of banned streaming services has grown. University officials said they are not aware of other schools with similar bans.
Students will have restricted access to streaming services over WiFi in lecture halls, classrooms and labs from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. Residence halls and other social spaces on campus will not be affected. Students will still be able to access streaming sites anywhere on campus using cellular data.
The ban was driven by a desire to free up bandwidth for academic purposes, said Mark Sonstein, executive director of information technology infrastructure at Purdue. An analysis conducted by the IT department in 2016 concluded that just 4 percent of Internet traffic over the WiFi network in the university’s life sciences building came from academic sites such as Blackboard, the campus’s learning management system. In lecture halls, where classes can surpass 300 students, some professors said they couldn’t lead online class activities because a few students were streaming music or videos during class.
Students have been generally receptive to the ban, Sonstein said. “They agree with it for the most part, they understand that access to online resources for learning is important,” he said.
Administrators have received positive feedback from faculty, too. Professors have the option to temporarily lift the ban in their classroom if students need to use streaming services for a classroom activity. During the pilot program, Sonstein said, “The only complaint we had was, ‘Why isn’t it in my classroom yet?’ ”
Kelly Blanchard, an economics professor at Purdue, said the prohibition helps students who have been distracted by classmates using streaming services in class.
“I can’t think of a reason in my class that they would need to access iTunes and Netflix,” Blanchard said. “The students get that there’s no educational need for streaming service, that it’s more of a cost to students around you.”
Blanchard expected more dissent from students regarding a ban when her classes participated in the pilot program last semester, she said, but she hasn’t noticed a drop in class attendance or heard negative feedback from students.
The prohibition reflects a larger debate in higher education about the role of technology in classrooms: the benefits, the dangers, the limits.
Some professors have decided to ban technology from the classroom altogether. Nancy Cheever, a professor and chair of communications at California State University at Dominguez Hills, spearheaded an initiative in 2016 that banned smartphones, laptops and other personal technology in every communications class — with grade deductions for violations — except for teacher-guided use and “tech breaks” during longer classes.
Cheever said professors are sometimes frustrated with “policing” students’ technology use, but many professors and students have applauded the ban. “Students will tell me that they’re having a more pleasurable experience in class; professors notice they’re more focused and engaged,” she said.
Some students said they hope the ban will curb rampant distractions in the larger lecture halls.
“People aren’t subtle about watching TV or playing video games. They have their laptops out, on the desk, and it’s distracting to everyone who can see their screen,” said Jonathan Bradway, a 21-year-old junior at Purdue. “The ban will improve the learning environment and make sure people on Purdue’s WiFi are using it for academics.”
Other students are concerned the ban will restrict their workflow. Many students study in classrooms after hours, or work better with music and background noise from services such as iTunes and Spotify, said Sara Zaloudek, a 21-year-old junior at Purdue. “A lot of the things that students need will be blocked, if students need to update their computer during class, or need a study break after working in a classroom for hours, they won’t be able to do this,” she said.
Placing restrictions on technology in the classroom is only a short-term solution to the long-term issues of bandwidth capacity and student attentiveness on college campuses, said Kevin Gannon, a history professor at Grand View University.
“It’s a way to avoid discussion about issues like infrastructure and capital improvements,” Gannon said. “Students should be involved in conversations about classroom rules and expectations, versus a university just laying down the ban hammer.”
Now that students at Purdue can’t immerse themselves in “Friends” or a curated Spotify playlist during class, the onus is on professors to capture students’ attention.
“It challenges us to develop courses and class activities that engage students, now that more will actually be paying attention in class,” said Alan Friedman, an associate professor of biology at Purdue.