Why this university banned Netflix from lecture halls

Students at Purdue University will no longer be able to catch up on Netflix or listen to Spotify during class, reports Morgan Smith for the Washington Post.

Purdue has blocked several streaming services in academic buildings on its West Lafayette campus. The university piloted this program in the fall by blocking student access to five streaming sites in four lecture halls. Now, they've extended it to include other streaming sites and academic spaces.

Students have restricted access to streaming services over WiFi in lecture halls, classrooms, and labs from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Students can still access these sites in residence halls, social spaces, or with cellular data. Professors can temporarily lift the ban if students need to use streaming services for class, reports Smith.

Purdue introduced the ban to free up bandwidth for academic purposes, says Mark Sonstein, the Executive Director of Information Technology Infrastructure. According to a 2016 analysis by the university's IT department, just 4% of internet traffic over the WiFi network in the life sciences building came from academic sites. And some professors have reported not being able to lead online class activities in the lecture hall because students were streaming music or videos.

Related: How to get your students to stop Snapchatting in class

Some students, like junior Sara Zaloudek, say the ban may limit students' ability to listen to background music while they study in the classrooms after-hours.

But other students and faculty hope the ban will also minimize tech distractions in class.

"I can’t think of a reason in my class that they would need to access iTunes and Netflix," says Kelly Blanchard, an Economics Professor at Purdue. "The students get that there’s no educational need for streaming service, that it’s more of a cost to students around you."

Jonathan Bradway, a junior at Purdue, points out that students "aren't subtle about watching TV or playing video games [in class]... and it’s distracting to everyone who can see their screen."

While the ban is intended to free up IT bandwidth, it reflects a larger debate about the role of technology in the classroom, notes Smith.

Nancy Cheever, a Communications Professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills who spearheaded a device ban in communication classes, says many students and faculty appreciate a device-free classroom. "Students will tell me that they’re having a more pleasurable experience in class; professors notice they’re more focused and engaged," she says.

Other faculty say that a blanket ban on devices can make the classroom less inclusive for students with disabilities or restrict students' freedom.

For Alan Friedman, an Associate Professor of Biology at Purdue, the streaming ban issues a challenge to him and his fellow faculty: "develop courses and class activities that engage students, now that more will actually be paying attention in class" (Smith, Washington Post, 3/15).

Keep reading: What do college students want from technology?

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