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No Streaming During Class

Purdue pilot program restricts access to sites such as Netflix and Hulu in specific lecture halls.

September 14, 2018
 

Purdue University students who were hoping to sneak in an episode of Queer Eye during their economics lecture are out of luck. The university recently debuted a pilot program that restricts access to five popular streaming sites -- Netflix, Hulu, Steam, Apple Updates and iTunes -- during class time in four of its biggest lecture halls.

The new restrictions are an attempt to free up much-needed bandwidth in four lectures halls located in the Lilly Hall of Life Sciences, the Wetherill Laboratory of Chemistry, the Electrical Engineering Building and the Class of 1950 Lecture Hall.

"We're faced with rapid increases in traffic demands in our biggest classrooms," Gerry McCartney, executive vice president and chief information officer at Purdue, said. "These are rooms holding typically hundreds of students, and they're coming into class with multiple devices. When we look to see the sites those devices are going to, there are some sites without academic connection."

A 2016 study cited in the Journal and Courier of internet use in Lilly Hall of Life Sciences revealed that 4 percent of internet traffic went to "academic" sites, 34 percent went to sites that were "likely non-academic," such as Netflix, Steam and Hulu, and 64 percent went to "mixed" sites like Google, Apple and Amazon.

The pilot restrictions have been in place since the fall semester began in August and the wireless system has seen "immediate relief" since. Lawrence DeBoer, an agricultural economics professor who teaches in two of the affected lecture halls, appreciates the increased speed and bandwidth.

"I support the restrictions for practical reasons, that there is limited bandwidth and I use that bandwidth in class," he wrote in an email. "[Students] sign on to software called 'Hotseat,' which is a website that allows them to answer questions in class in real time. I know that some students follow along with the notes I post online as well. If the bandwidth is taken up with non-academic high-intensity uses, it interferes with the classroom software."

The university has received almost no criticism from faculty and students about the restrictions, save for one professor who "asked why her classroom wasn't included in the pilot," McCartney said.

He doesn't expect that to change, but if students do begin to complain, they're welcome to step out into the hall.

"[The restricted sites] are available in the corridor, and if you desperately want to play a Steam game, just go outside and do it," he said.

DeBoer also hasn't heard any complaints.

"What would they say to me," he wrote. 'I'm upset that I can't watch Big Bang Theory re-runs in your class?'"

Kelly Blanchard, an economics lecturer, also teaches in two of the lecture halls. She's heard mixed reviews from students.

"I've heard from both students who are for it and students who are against it. For students who were already attentive (or are at least trying to be attentive), it means there are fewer distractions, or it doesn't make much difference since they were already paying attention," she wrote in an email. "However, I understand students might not be happy about having the choice taken away from them."

Blanchard believes that the restrictions will have the biggest impact on students in classes with mandatory attendance.

"Students who are watching Netflix in class are likely students who wouldn't be coming to class if they didn't have to," she wrote.

The restrictions are limited to instructional hours, from about 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Every other access point on campus -- Purdue has nearly 9,500 of them -- are fair game for streaming. If professors need students to visit one of the blocked sites during class, they can do so. The university is able to open up a "pinhole" that allows temporary access.

Neither DeBoer nor Blanchard have noticed a difference in student attentiveness since the pilot began, but Blanchard hopes that results from an upcoming exam might show otherwise.

If the pilot remains successful, McCartney said that the university will likely expand it to other instructional spaces on campus. Residence halls will never be affected.

"When you're in the classroom, you're there to do classroom activities," he said. "When I was an undergraduate, you sometimes read newspapers or books or something, but now there are a lot more attractive nuisances, which are taking up resources."

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