In Faculty News, Journalism

BYU communications professor uses passion for flying drones — both personally and professionally — as inspiration for award-winning research paper

School of Communications professor Quint Randle’s fascination with drones led him to co-write an award-winning paper about drone usage in higher education. (Ari Davis, BYU Universe)

School of Communications professor Quint Randle’s fascination with drones led him to co-write a paper that won the top faculty paper award from the Scholastic Journalism division of AEJMC

Randle teamed up with fellow drone-enthusiasts and communication professors Avery Holton from the University of Utah and Jean Norman from Weber State University to research the use of drones in collegiate environments and the policies that individual universities have surrounding their use on campus.

“I’ve been interested in flying drones for the past couple of years,” said Randle. “The legalities and rules of using drones in journalism is a new and exciting topic. It’s an interest in my personal life and has become a big interest in my professional life as well.”

The paper entitled “Drones on High: Uses and Challenges of Incorporating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Into Higher Education” gives a small glimpse into a larger project that Randle, Holton and Norman have been working on about the adaptation of drone usage in the field of news media. These professors believe that drone usage in news media has the potential to open the door to better visuals and multimedia to accompany reporters’ stories.

These professors traveled to Toronto, Canada for the annual four-day AEJMC conference during the second week of August. While at the conference, Randle, Holton and Norman discovered that they won the top faculty paper award while browsing through the event program. 

Randle and co-author Avery Holton were awarded the top faculty paper award from the Scholastic Journalism division of AEJMC. (Courtesy of Quint Randle)

“We didn’t expect to win this award and didn’t even realize we had until we saw it in the program at the conference,” said Randle. “I always like to do something that is innovative. I think that’s why our paper won this year’s award — it was a new topic and it was creative.”

The idea for researching drone usage on college campuses came from Randle’s years of presenting about drones in panels and workshops. Many in attendance either told Randle their school did not allow them to use drones on campus property or the university wanted to own and register any drones used on campus — making use of them in teaching environments very difficult.

In order to collect the needed information for the paper, the three professors began to survey university risk managers from around the state. University risk managers, like BYU’s Risk Management, are intended to ensure safety on campus and analyze the risks pertaining to campus resources. In regards to drones, Randle, Holton and Norman discovered the opinions and policies on drones varied greatly from campus to campus. Randle was grateful to discover that BYU was more open toward drone usage than many other universities. 

Through these surveys, the professors were able to assess the percentage of universities in Utah that permit drones and the policies surrounding drone usage. The information presented in the paper is intended to enlighten readers on the current state of drone use in higher education. It also highlights the potential benefits that come from incorporating drones into classroom instruction.

“The fact that we did this survey, wrote the paper and it won the top faculty award is incredible,” said Randle. “Most of the time you don’t know what will happen with the projects you work on. However, when you follow your passion, things happen. That’s what is most exciting — something really small turned into something great.”

Randle traveled to Sweden mid-September to present the research on drone usage in higher education and additional work done by Holton and Norman in an international conference. 

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