Verbum Ultimum: Rethinking Accountability

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 11/13/14 7:19pm

Technology has undeniably revolutionized education, but this advancement must be critically examined. Not every subject benefits from laptops and PowerPoints — and clearly, the clicker system has substantial flaws that enable its abuse. Blue books and chalkboards still have a place.

Before you call us luddites, we’ll acknowledge technology has its benefits. Submitting a paper on Canvas is more convenient than sprinting across campus to slip a hard copy under a professor’s door. We’re not about to give up our laptops and Google Docs for typewriters. But look around during your next class. You will likely see more screens open to Facebook and BuzzFeed than to Word. We are adults, and we must be held accountable for our actions. But effectively removing oneself from class discussion through these actions affects the rest of the class. When nearly no one can answer a professor’s questions, it lowers the quality of the class for everyone. We are at Dartmouth to get a high-quality education, and first and foremost we must dedicate ourselves to academics.

Students need to be mentally and physically present in the classroom for it to be a meaningful educational experience. However, we believe that having a defined attendance policy — say, when simply showing up accounts for 15 percent of your grade — does not foster this kind of experience. First, attendance policies are often easy to circumvent, as seen in the case of “Sports, Ethics and Religion.” If a professor does a vocal roll call, friends can say that the student in question stepped out of the room for just a moment. If a professor hands a sheet around, students can easily sign in for a friend.

More importantly, students should not be rewarded for merely showing up — they should be rewarded for participating. With attendance points, a student sitting in the back row on Facebook gets the same credit as a student actively engaged in class. Professors should instead incentivize — but not mandate — attendance through class discussions that are crucial for performing well on tests or papers. At a liberal arts institution like Dartmouth, students should not be able to rely on PowerPoint notes or class readings alone. Though participation points can be difficult to dole out in large classes, quick paper pop quizzes offer one method. And in smaller classes, professors can and should set aside part of a student’s grade for participation.

There’s a deeper problem at play here. A pervasive “layup” culture encourages and incentivizes cheating, cheapening our educational experience. With all of the other endeavors to focus on — extracurriculars, athletic teams, Greek life — it is too easy to put class on the backburner, and it shouldn’t be. We hear about professors who are easy, and take their classes so we can scrape by. When we don’t care about the class, or expect to get a high grade from it without doing the legwork, cheating seems both trivial and often expected. The bigger the class, the easier it is to justify each incident. Lenient professors who enable this kind of behavior and logic perpetuate the cycle.

Dartmouth has long been renowned for its undergraduate teaching. We cannot allow the “layup” culture to diminish this. Though technology can be an effective tool, it often compounds this culture’s negative effects by enabling either dishonesty or intellectual laziness. Nobody is perfect, and we have all been caught between a rock and a hard place during a class. We’ve all opted for an easier class over a harder one. We have all wasted at least one lecture clicking away on the website of our choice. Everyone is complicit, so each of us must individually fight the “layup” culture that is endemic to our campus. However, professors must assist in this effort as well by changing the structure of classes to incentivize participation without mandating attendance and by reducing the ineffective use of technology where needed.