By Matthew Prescott Oxman
Paper airplanes thrown at professors, music and movies played aloud on laptops and chattering cell phone users are causing engineering instructors to pack up and leave.
In an announcement posted on BlackBoard Oct. 19, first-year engineering instructors Robert Gossage and Andrew McWilliams announced two measures to deal with the “constant disruptions” in General Chemistry lectures.
The first was a three-strike policy. After three warnings the professor would walk out and it would be up to students to learn the rest of the lecture material on their own. The second was to make test and exam questions harder, since “the class appeared to know the material well enough so as not to listen during lecture.”
“Chemistry has been the worst,” said Adam Rupani, a first-year engineering student. “I was sitting in the first row and couldn’t hear the professor.”
“I got [a bad grade] on that midterm because those people weren’t paying attention,” Rupani said.
Lucas Crawford said he was nearly blamed when another student threw a paper airplane that narrowly missed chemical engineering professor Frankie Stewart. Crawford said Stewart “flipped out,” and took the name, student number and picture of every student in the three back rows. Yet no students were reprimanded as far as Crawford is aware.
Disrupting learning and teaching is listed as the first offence in the non-academic code of conduct.
Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said that professors should ask the university for support before walking out.
“Walking out doesn’t sound to me like it would be in our policy,” Levy said.
Gossage declined to comment. But Mickey Cirak, student conduct officer, said no formal complaints have been made by professors or students. He said professors can either file a complaint or call his office for a consultation on how to deal with a particular situation.
“ The approaches that can be used range anywhere from speaking to the entire class, to putting expectations on the syllabus all the way to taking action with individual students and filing a formal complaint,” he said.
“What I always advocate is that students and individuals be given an opportunity to learn.”
Rupani said lectures have been better since the removal of clicker tests that were at the end of each lecture. Students got bonus marks just for taking the test, but without it, some of the rowdier students decided to skip class.
“People won’t come if there’s nothing going on,” said Rupani.
Students said the disruptions could be because of the large class sizes, but Cirak said he hasn’t seen a trend of this kind of student behaviour.
“Managing big classes is an issue in every institution,” said Mohamed Lachemi, the dean of the faculty of engineering, architecture and science.
He said he doesn’t discuss specific issues with professors, but that these issues are discussed between the professors and their respective chairs.
But in this case, Lachemi said, “I will go to see for myself, for sure.”
Noman Javed, another first-year engineering student said he understands it is difficult for professors to control 500 students. But he said even when professors don’t walk out of class, their failure to deal with obnoxious students makes lectures a waste of time.
Andrew McWilliams and Frankie Stewart were unavailable for comment.