October 14th, 2015

How Concerned Should We Be About Cell Phones in Class?



As faculty, it seems we are very concerned about cell phones in the classroom. Articles about the problem are popping up everywhere in the pedagogical literature, and they often are the “most-read” and “most-commented” articles listed on various websites. Is student use of electronic devices that pressing of a pedagogical problem? I’ve been wondering if our focus on it isn’t becoming excessive.

No question, it’s a vexing problem. Research makes it abundantly clear that students can’t multitask, despite their beliefs to the contrary. Even a casual observation of them texting in class while they’re supposed to be listening and taking notes makes it clear that it’s the listening and note-taking that are getting short shrift. The question is, to what extent is this a problem for teachers and students?

Teaching Professor Blog Does the use of the devices make it harder for other students to focus on learning tasks? More than 60% of a diversified student cohort said it does, according to a recent survey. However, 80% of that cohort reported using their cell phones at least once a period, with 75% saying that doing so was either acceptable or sometimes acceptable. So apparently from the student perspective, we’re not talking about a disruption they consider serious. Perhaps that’s because 92% of those in this survey didn’t believe that using their phones had negative effects.

Does the use of devices disrupt the teacher? It can. We also care that students aren’t engaging with the material when they’re on their phones, and we have leadership responsibility for the classroom environment. Both of those are justified concerns, but does some of our agitation grow out of personal offense? Students aren’t listening to us, and that’s rude. Should we be taking this personally? People everywhere are paying more attention to their devices than to those around them.

I also wonder if it isn’t getting under our skin because most of our policies really aren’t working all that well. Students in the survey didn’t rate a university policy, a syllabus policy, a glare from the teacher, and a public reprimand as all that effective. Forty percent of the students said they would still text in class even after a teacher reprimand. What did stop them from texting, they said, was a confrontational action—the teacher took their device, lowered their grade, or removed them from the classroom. Researchers didn’t ask what those confrontations did to/for the learning environment and the ongoing teacher-student relationships within that class.

Are we failing to see that in some ways this isn’t about the devices, but rather about power? When there’s a policy against using phones in class and students use them anyway, that says something about how powerful we are, or in this case, aren’t. It feels like we should be doing something, but we’re justifiably reluctant to make the big power moves that fix the problem when there’s such a high risk of collateral damage.

Some faculty report success with redirecting use of these devices—the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” solution. Students are encouraged to search for material, look things up, or use their phones as clickers. Okay, that works, but you can’t have students constantly looking things up throughout am entire class. Even when given the opportunity, is everybody searching for what you’ve asked them to find?

And is the smell of hypocrisy in the air? In conference sessions, professional development workshops, faculty meetings, and academic gatherings of various sorts, faculty are on their devices. Of course, it isn’t just faculty using devices at all sorts of questionable times. Everybody is.

Lots of points, but here’s the bottom line: I think we can make the use of electronic devices more important than it merits. Yes, it compromises student learning and we have a responsibility to make sure students understand what they’re doing, but is it our job to prevent it? If we get too focused on the problem, then isn’t that taking away time we could be using to shape our content in interesting ways and to devise activities that so effectively engage students they forget to check devices? I know it’s a radical thought, but as one of my colleagues wondered, maybe the best policy here is no policy—but instead regular conversations about what learning requires.

What do you think? I welcome your thoughts.

Reference: Berry, M. J. and Westfall, A., (2015). Dial D for distraction: The making and breaking of cell phone policies in the college classroom. College Teaching 63 (2), 62-71.

Photo credit: Mark Fugarino, Flickr Creative Commons. Some rights reserved

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  • Charles Gross

    Well said and the perspective that students are on their electronic devises because they ARR NOT engaged with their instruction is well said.

    • smile4reference

      My sentiments exactly.

  • Chris L.

    As an Instructor and Instructional Designer I am constantly irritated by faculty who devise onerous and complicated device policies for their classes and courses. I have seen syllabi that will outright fail a student if the faculty member even sees a phone in class (talk about not being focused on the real goals of education!). The hypocrisy definitely hits me when I see these same teachers in faculty meetings working on their laptops, smartphones, and other devices not paying any mind to the topic at hand. Very often they looked confused later in the conversation and raise issues that have already been address and settled, thus indicating that they themselves were not paying attention. (One of my favorite things to do in meetings is to snap pictures of these faculty members and share it with them when we design courses or have training seminars and this issue comes up. Nothing like public shaming to get a point across!)

    I personally believe that an individual student can and should be allowed to use a device unless it is obvious that their use of a device is negatively impacting their ability to understand and master the material. If it becomes obvious that an individual student is failing because of how they interact with their device(s), then it becomes incumbent upon me, the Instructor, to have a conversation with that student and address the issue in a constructive manner. Imposing policies for the failure of one student does not help nor does it allow that student to learn from their mistake in a constructive way. What I often find is that students are not often aware of their own "addiction" and negative habits. What I then do is raise the concerns I have with the student and invite them to assess themselves and see if they reach the same conclusions; most of the time they do! From there I work with that student to develop good device habits and methods for incorporating the use of the device into their studies (i.e. using apps to read course materials, etc). Periodically I will check in with the student and see how they are doing and whether we need to adjust our plan or course of action.

    What we educators really need to do with students is to teach them how to use tools to their advantage (just as any master craftsman does, whether he is an artist, carpenter, or welder), but not to be used by their tools. In doing so, we are giving them the critical skills for good life management. Banning devices will not give our students the opportunity to master this important skill.

    Note: A great resource on this very issue is Donald A. Norman's "Things That Make Us Smart," a wonderfully well-written book on how we need to rethink our relationships with tools and devices.

    • Jeff

      1) Some faculty are hypocritical with cell phone use.
      2) I have warned students about cell phone use and some, not all, continue to use the phone. They just try harder at hiding the use.
      3) As a craftsman, I am teaching them to keep their phones away. They need to pay attention, not play on a phone. There may be a time when they can use their phone in a group exercise. That is fine. But this is not done 50 minutes three times a week. Sometimes students need to pay attention and participate in class discussion.
      4) Playing on a cell phone while I am trying to help them be successful in class is rude. Talking in class is rude and I don't allow that behavior.
      5) I ban the use of the device because using it during class is rude. Why should I tolerate rude behavior?

    • smile4reference

      Chris, I am interested to know how the faculty respond to the public shaming. I agree that I see faculty enthralled with their cell phones during times of learning. It amazes me how they don't understand that students will have the same issue too. It makes sense to engage them. That is one of the reason that I love Reacting to the Past(RTTP) games. I attended a seminar in Athens, Greece and people were leaving their other sessions to go shopping etc. No one left our session early. We were very actively engaged in the learning process.

      • Chris L.

        The general response I get is amazement then realization. Many of the faculty do not realize how much time they spend on their devices and are amazed at how they look when I show them the picture or video. Many times they say that they are engaged with the learning, but then they readily admit that they probably weren't. Most of them make the connection with their own students by empathizing with their behavior. Once they realize that they were not conscious of their own behavior they can then understand how their students (who often do not have the disciplines that the faculty member has) can do the same thing.

        What I find is that most of the faculty who have had this pointed out to them will not only start modeling good behavior (e.g. making it a point to put their cell phone or device away) but they will often have an open and frank conversation with their students in which they openly admit their own failures to turn off their devices, etc. Admitting their own lack of attention and their struggles with devices goes a long way towards helping students manage their own devices and attention to them.

    • Daryl

      Even if a faculty meeting were analogous to a classroom, a charge of hypocrisy does not prove that the argument against students playing with their cellphones in the classroom is defective. Hypocrisy may not be admirable conduct, but you haven't refuted the thesis. One might as well claim that my argument that smoking tobacco is harmful is invalid because I'm puffing on a pipe while I make the argument and that my hypocrisy refutes my thesis. My moral failings do not somehow mysteriously infect the logical relation between the premises and conclusion of my argument. That's a logical fallacy–a species of ad hominem, actually. Let's hear your argument that faculty should not include prohibitions against playing with a cellphone in class on their syllabi. Would you prefer an ex post facto rule, for example? What about other sorts of poor student comportment, e.g., private conversations, whistling, standing up and walking around without invitation, arriving late in class and high-fiving one's classmates, etc.?

    • Don

      So….I guess you think it is ok to text in a movie or play and if it seems disruptive, then the person should be reprimanded by Management after…..this shows lack of consideration for those around.

      As a college instructor, If the student does not like the rules of class conduct, then they can take another instructor.

  • Dr. Karen H. Miller

    If our assessments are too vague to pick up performance differences between students engaged in the class and those engaged with their wireless technology during class, we as faculty may have to take some of the blame.

    Students, especially newer undergraduates, may still not understand that the role of a college or university student is a "professional" role, and they are expected to be a knowledgeable participant. We have to make that clear in our language, actions, and how we reward those who do catch on. A bit like being a nanny, it's true, but part of our role as faculty.

    • Chris L.

      Dr. Miller,

      Excellent point on our use of assessment to differentiate. My opinion is that if my student can demonstrate mastery of the material and can maintain professionalism then he/she can use any and all devices.

      • P. Brown

        Yes to Chris L., but that's a big "if." Looking at baby pictures or texting is not evidence of mastery nor of professionalism, even though the use of portable electronics is common practice.

      • Johnny

        I would suggest that using a cellphone during class is inherently unprofessional.

        • Chris L.


          Can I ask why you think that using a cellphone in class is unprofessional? What about the act is problematic? I can see if the student is having a full conversation that is definitely unprofessional. But what about using a smartphone's web app?

          Just genuinely curious about this, not making a judgement call. It may be that I am missing something that can influence my thinking on the matter.


          • Johnny

            Hi Chris,

            My statement was a sweeping generalisation based on the predominant uses I have seen for phones in classrooms – namely to send/receive messages, to update or peruse social media sites, to listen to music or to watch videos. Any of these behaviours I find entirely unprofessional – they are distracting to students and instructors alike, and send the message that the user of the phone has something better to do with their time. When this is compounded by an individual asking a question about something that they missed while distracting themselves, then I would go further and characterise their behaviour as not simply unprofessional but antisocial. As instructors, we have a limited amount of contact time to help our students develop knowledge and understanding – I do not abide any one student taking that time away from another through their classroom behaviour.


          • The focus should be on carrying concealed weapons in classrooms that can kill students not on cell phones!

          • Jeff

            For me, using a phone while I am explaining a topic, showing a short video or discussing a current says, "I do not care what you are doing." When I am having class discussion, if a student is playing on the phone, they are not engaged in the discussion. The discussion is something I developed to make the class more interesting and assist in active learning. If a student is playing on the phone during the discussion, it says to me, "I don't want to learn and don't care what you are doing."

            This is why I think it is rude.

      • Jeff

        Do you let students talk in class if they have an "A". How about sleep in class? Shouldn't the student be engaged in class discussion instead of playing on a cell phone?

        • Chris L.

          Actually I do let them sleep…if they are paying to be there and can accomplish everything I set out for them to do, then that is their prerogative. My classes are designed for active and open participation and since I don't lecture at all I encourage open dialogue so students can talk whenever (I am a huge hater of lecture style classes).

          The problem that I see so often is that we want the students to conform to our system without us learning and adapting to their way of thinking and learning. So long as we are beholden to the flawed and unverified method of lecture-style teaching, we have to impose these types of draconian policies. The easiest way I know how to resolve the problem is to stop lecturing and actually teach, through active and engaging classes.

  • brooklynroads

    It seems that when we can no longer resolve a situation we simply state that it's not that important anyway. The research statistics quoted in the discussion reveal that the use of phones is a distraction to other students, so it's more than just a power issue or a question of whether or not the techno-student can succeed: there's an obligation to create a respectful learning environment for all students.

    Replace the technology with good old-fashioned student conversations sprinkled throughout the room, or students doing other work or reading the newspaper. Are these acceptable? If not, then how is it different from their using technology? (If it is, then…)

    Public behaviour used to be a societal value; it seems to be no longer the case, as evidenced in our other public venues such as movies and the dinner table. This is one of the intrinsic lessons that we teach, either negatively or positively.. If a phone conversation or message is so important, the students can simply remove themselves from the classroom and return when they're finished.

    And one last thought – looking out at students, it's most helpful to see eyes and faces, not head tops

  • Lynn

    The issue, for me, is that students using their phones are not only interrupting their ability to take in information they need to succeed in the course, but even more so that students with learning disabilities are affected either by using their phones, or are distracted by others. When I have to field "what are we doing?" after a student has been on a phone I have no desire to have the conversation. Do I feel disrespected? Yes. Would they feel disrespected if I used my phone while they were speaking to me? Yes. I have a "no phone" policy, but there is no real way to enforce it. I'm tired of telling students to put their phones away, or watching the latest stealth move to use them anyway. I have a phone, I use my phone, but not in class. I've asked students to place their phones in their book bags at the beginning of each class, but they don't do it. I can see the physical stress they experience when the phone is out of their hands. It's addiction in my opinion. Students on my campus are on their phones texting or plugged into music as they walk from class to class. "Good morning" is sadly something I have given up on. For me, it's a serious problem.

    • guest

      I feel your pain. I am in the midst of this now with two students. I am starting to believe these two students simply can not function without having their phones close by. After first joking about them, embarrassing them, pointing out the syllabus note, raising my voice, and politely asking them outside of class to refrain, I now find that I'm fixated on catching them as I talk during class. And I hate that.

      • Jeff

        I know the feeling. I have now resorted to removing students from class at first sight. I explain this the first day and it is in my syllabus. It is working. Cell phone use has really decreased. However, attendance is off some and students are more hostile. Many of the cell phone abusers simply sleep or stare out a window. They truly look lost. I suggest to repeat offenders that they drop my class and take it online.

    • smile4reference

      Yes, the phone is an addiction. Perhaps, having the students place their phones face down on their desk and the first person caught using their phone will have to write a paper. I know when I gave them more work as a consequence, the usage stopped. Even more so, when the phone went off in class, I answered it for them. My response was generally very embarrassing for them that they made sure that it didn't happen again.

  • Pam Reese

    Cell phones have always been a problem in the classroom even with a "strict" policy against use in the syllabi. This semester I left it blank, and had the students get into groups and suggest appropriate and in appropriate use. Surprise! They all put social media on the inappropriate use chart. I wrote the new syllabus guide lines following their suggestions, and added that social media use would be monitored by peers in the classroom. Half way through the semester, and so far the new policy is working. If phone are on desks at all, they are face down.

    • Nancy Augustine

      I really like this idea, giving students a role in addressing the problem. I wonder if they develop their list based on what they think you want them to say, or what they think will benefit their own learning. Have you, or has anyone else, tried to get students to weigh in on teacher behaviors that so and do not contribute to their learning? Done poorly, I’m sure this strategy could open up a Pandora’s box. But what if it’s done well?

    • Chris

      Pam, Can you explain what you mean by "monitored by peers" please?

  • Dean Williams

    If "electronic" devices is primarily an issue about power, what does that say about today's faculty? Hmm! Do they feel as though we are loosing authority in the classroom and the only way to gain it back is to impose rules about cell phones, laptops, attendance? What happened to our primary role being about imparting of knowledge regarding a particular subject? Maybe the problem lies within us and not the student.

    • Guest

      I don't think it's about power at all. I care that students do well in my classes. It wouldn't be a problem if the students would take responsibility for missing information while they are busy on their electronic devices. Instead I hear that it's my fault they don't know assignments, directions, etc. because I didn't tell them or didn't remind them over and over again. It's frustrating when their lack of attention becomes my fault for them not knowing important information that could affect their grade.

      • Hi I agree that educators are being blamed for more than what I can consider acceptable or realistic. I am thankful for electronic devices as they provide a wealth of information and let’s face it, if we own a device we are attached to it in one way or the other. However, honestly they are not only devices full of relevant and quickly assessible information, but they are also toys, yes our toys. Toys are not bad things because we all enjoy having devices that amuse us–and an aspect of maturity is learning when to put the amusement aside and focus on what’s relevant at the time. With that being said, then yes phones can and should have some use in the classroom if they are being used for the appropriate reasons. The question then is how, do we as educators monitor and control that usage in class? In regards to power, I don’t think that is exactly the case here, rather addiction to devices that has become a global topic. Have you experienced having an important conversation with a friend or even your spouse and they pull out their phone and start texting–with no apologies? Therefore, seeminly it’s expected to be acceptable, again seemingly. This attitude also has transferred into the workplace and classrooms as well. Our phones should be involved with just about every aspect of our lives, it’s becoming the norm. It’s very difficult to try and correct a problem if we deal with just the outcomes of that problem. What’s the root cause of phone addiction? It seems that the teacher can be blamed for not being able to keep students engaged. Okay, that’s certainly true in some instances and as a teacher I have failed sometimes in keeping my class engaged. It’s apparent that the key factor is what it requires to keep students engaged and interested in school work today is more complicated than in the past times; there’s a strong demand to keep students very amused. Okay, so we create songs to sing and rock to about verbs, algebra and so on, that’s helpful and fun, I agree and implement these strategies. However, we can’t sing, dance and always produce drama around learning. Or is that just what we want now? Is the delivery of basic instruction become so boring and distasteful that we must have a lot of stimulation to keep us engaged? How about when students struggle to do their homework because they are in their rooms at home engaging in social media. So, I think that it’s really complex here to point blame at any particular source or person. The issue with over phone usage I think is more of a social matter that can’t just be addressed in the classroom. What keeps many learners engaged and why should also be studied and how to address the reasons why.

      • smile4reference

        I agree. I do not think it is about power. However, have you considered collecting all of their cell numbers and providing them the homework assignments and other information that is normally missed through phone apps like "Reminder". These are helpful in getting the students to engage with you and still get that vital information. Unfortunately, society has changed. And we must adapt to change with it.

        • Jeff

          Good point. But how does this address students playing on a cell phone in class? I like the notion of integrating cell phones and other technology into class. But not all cell use in class is related to course work.

  • Nathan Parry

    The use of cell phones in the classroom to me, is important. There are so many formative assessment apps that can be used. Not every school has access to iPads or other computer sources for one to one use. However, the majority of students do have their own cell phones and a large percentage of these are smart phones. I too, use my smart phone as a tool in the classroom. Aside from accessing email quickly, I use the app Plickers for a very quick, instant, formative assessment. I also encourage the students to use google classroom. This can be accessed via any platform with an internet access.

    Also the camera functions allow me to take images direct from a microscope to the projector instantly.

    If used right, they can be a valuable learning tool.

    • Chris L.

      Nathan, I agree that these devices are important and I actively encourage my students to use them, especially for note-taking (many of my students use Evernote, Skitch, and other apps). Ironically, however, I do not use a smartphone myself and rely solely on my laptop because I know me and my personality so I do not allow myself to get one. However, I don't see the need to deny my students access to a tool that can help them in their studies.

      • Jon


        While they are helpful in limited instances, overall a no cell phone policy is in the interest of the students. Day one of class – I explain the research that indicates the positive benefits of showing up for class and at minimum listening to the material even if they do not participate, the detriment that occurs from distracted attendance (there is a reason in many states you can not text and drive), and the benefits of taking notes by hand.

        Then we go over my cell phone policy in class – No cell phones visible or audible in class. A pop quiz occurs for any infraction. This is the first semester I have enacted this policy. Amazingly, I have had almost no one asking when assignments are due or missing a portion of the class discussion and then trying to restart the class at the beginning.

        Which boils down to anecdotal evidence that all of the students benefit because we can cover more material with less distractions.

  • Tracy

    I am a nursing instructor and a clinical instructor. Most instructors do not allow the students to use their phone. I tell them to keep it on silent and if they need to text, go to the break room, just a a "real nurse" would do. I tell them I realize there are certain situations where they must use them, i.e. family sickness, etc. As long as it does not compromise patient care or inhibit other students learning, it's ok. Ultimately, if the student chooses to use the phone inappropriately, they are the ones that will suffer the consequences. I also tell them to "keep their eyes open" for medical staff that use their phones inappropriately and we discuss how this affects patient's perception and care.

    • Dr. Karen H. Miller

      I really appreciate how you have linked classroom behavior to professional clinical behavior. Learners can see how and why an action should be performed.

  • D Campbell

    It’s rude to use a cell phone during class just as it’s rude to talk to your neighbor; both are disruptive to the instructor and distract those around them. I don’t see why texting should be tolerated any differently than talking to a fellow student. I teach a small class of 14, so it’s not a problem to have everyone (including me) turn off their cell phones and place them on a table at the front of the room before we begin. We use them during break and students pick them up again as they leave the classroom. My job as a teacher is to help my students excel to the very best of their abilities. It has been proven that they do worse when cell phones are used during class, so I would I allow it?

  • kbv7001

    The first week of class we discuss ground rules together. At this time, cell phone use always comes up. The students and I work together to come up with 'ground rules' about cell phone use in class that we can all agree on. Typically, students say that it is distracting when someone's phone rings or buzzes during class. Though we do use cell phones in class, these are for specific activities.

  • Autar Kaw

    I have a no cell phone policy in my class. Violation of the use is termed as academic disruption. The penalty is to leave the classroom and I have had to use the penalty only once in the last decade of teaching 50 sections of five different courses at upper and graduate levels with an average of 60 students/section. After a few warnings, I get no one using the phone within the first week of classes. However, I do make exceptions if a person would not be able to make to class otherwise, e.g., a student's significant other is expecting a baby anytime, or a student is waiting for health test results, etc. I ask these people to sit close to the door and leave the room if their phone buzzes. I ask students to let their loved ones know about my cell phone policy. My own cell phone stays powered off during the class. After giving them the findings of several multi-tasking studies, my students understand that I have their best interests in mind.

    Why be so strict about the cell phone! Keep in mind that when they are in class, they are learning something for the first time and need to connect it to their previous knowledge. This is taxing the working memory to the limit. So all the focus should be on what one is learning. This is different from being in a meeting where one may be quickly looking for information related to the discussion or taking a quick peek at one's email.

  • Dr R Jagadeesh

    Today's students are inseparable from their cellphones and it applies to classroom as well. Texting and frequently looking at the messages are priority instead of listening and understanding the subject. I humorously tell them that they can use the phone if they are working for a 24X7 company and it is essential that they stay connected all through the day and night. But as I have observed penalty in the form of fine, downgrading, or marking absence, none of that works and they continue to use. But frequent reminders about the classroom discipline helps to some extent in controlling the tendency.

  • Beth Oldfield

    Your essay summed up the issue perfectly. My cell phone policy makes as little as possible about the practice, other than it being uncivil. I consider my students adults. I cannot "make" them do anything. They will suffer the natural consequences by not engaging in class. But I don't completely ignore it: if I see a student texting during class, I simple make a notation on my attendance list indicating they were present, but not engaged. If the student's behavior is distracting to others, I will make a general comment to entire class about cellphones, and that usually does the trick. (I try NOT to single students out). This issue sort of reminds me of my own practice of doodling during lectures/professional development sessions. Some may see it as disrespectful or rude, but it actually helps me internalize the information and isn't distracting to others (that I know of!!)

  • Cameron Lee

    We instituted a technology policy in the classroom a few years ago to address what I hope was an aberrant situation: in a type of cyberbullying, students were texting each other, making comments about other students. I don't believe we have that situation anymore, but I believe it's beneficial to at least have a policy in place, printed in the syllabus, as a clear indication of the boundaries of professionalism. I make it a point of conversation when we review the syllabus. How onerous you make the policy, and how you enforce it, is a slightly different question. Part of the issue of power here is the question of empowerment: we want to help our students learn professionalism and courtesy; the question is whether this is best accomplished by assuming that they are adults and expected to behave that way, or by assuming they are children and treating them as such.

  • just2bruce

    If we aren't more interesting than what's on the cellphone, we shouldn't be teaching.

    Instead of banning cellphones, ask students to tell you when you are being boring. Perhaps a hand signal or something, like passing in the play from the sideline.

    Same goes for computers. Their brains are wired in with the media, and we should not make the mistake of assuming that because we learned something in a certain way, that's the only way. It ain't!

    • Guest

      And, should they also tell a guest lecturer, or their manager on their job, or a colleague in a meeting, or fellow group members that they are being boring? We all need to learn appropriate times and places to use our cell phone for personal/casual use. Students in a classroom should be no different. Just because "their brains are wired in with the media" doesn't mean they shouldn't learn and abide by appropriate communication rules. If that is the case, then I think they should be getting their education, "with the media", online and not in a physical classroom setting.

      • anonymous

        Sorry, but I disagree. Most of the stuff we learn in college is not going to be fun, interesting, or engaging. I should not have to do a song and dance every class to keep them entertained. Part of the mark of maturity is to keep focused on a single extended thought for more than an hour without succumbing to distractions.

        • Guest

          @ anonymous: I think your reply was for "just2bruce", and not for my posting; but, yes, I absolutely agree with you.

      • just2bruce

        It would make a lot of boring meetings go better.

        • Guest

          🙂 Well, it could definitely make it interesting! I am not sure about making it "better", though. Just as easily, one could simply not attend the meeting, and save that time and space for those who want to be there. (or, at the least, quietly excuse yourself at the point when the meeting becomes boring.)

          Thanks for the friendly exchange! I respect your opinion.

  • Rich Slatta

    I ban all electronics, including phones and laptops from class. Day 1 I show this short video clip on the myth of multitasking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO_oEGHWSMU The students get the point and do not object. Keeping them actively engaged in the classroom with the material and one another gives them no time to even think about their phones.

    • jim8107

      Rich, thank you for this link, very helpful. Jim

  • DrK

    I agree wholeheartedly. I had a previous dean tell me after in class observation that it was my job to make sure they were not texting on their phones, yet I had observed her doing it in a meeting – I suppose to a point this is true. However, if they are not being disruptive, then it is THEIR learning they are short changing. In fact, this is the iceberg tip of a larger problem: Professors doing for students things they should be doing themselves. As adults, I am convince that the sooner we make it THEIR job to monitor their activity in class- pay attention, take notes, ask questions and be active learners – the better. If by the time they reach college they are not "internally motivated learners' then perhaps they should not be there! I think it is time that we educators, get out of the way of the consequences that arise when students engage in poor learning behaviors.

    • Guest

      Good point, and I agree with this!

  • Roger Soiset

    Even more distressing is the use of Internet searches for answers by students when taking tests. I threaten to give Fs, to remove students from of the class, require all cell phones and laptops be left outside…nothing seems to work. Technology is dealing academic honesty a serious blow; and students can be ever so covert in their efforts to find an easy way to make a better grade with less effort.

  • Cheri S

    I discuss cell phone use in the beginning of class. I would not accept a student reading a book in class, or doing other homework, why is it ok to be distracted by their phones. I have never had a student not accept some restriction on phone use. If someone has a need to get a call, we speak about it before class. I offer breaks to check their phones in transitions if it is a long class, but otherwise, their phones distract the work of the classroom. They go off for facebook, texts, call, emails, that is just too much. Imagine if a student 20 years ago brought their phone with a long cord and sat it on their desk…not happening right? They are paying for the course, or will be when their loan is up, so remind them of the value of this time. otherwise, they are just "doin time" and sitting there not taking it in or learning.

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  • Xavier

    Handling texting in class doesn't seem to have to be handled heavy handedly. Faculty might think about thinking of themselves not as leaders but as "salespeople", since they are endeavoring to get students (truly the college customers) to buy what they are teaching (selling). It does get annoying when a customer stops paying attention to a salesperson. However rather than being in a position to order the customer around (and really not wishing to do so), the salesperson resorts to a more customer focused and less product centered approach and attempts to "connect the dots" with the customer. Basically, a teacher has to first find out if the student understands that texting is potentially costing him or her money because the teacher's class is not inexpensive. So whatever information which the student may need later is missed because of texting essentially costs him or her or their parents money. The questions a teacher might ask is, how important is money to the student both now and in the future, since a future job might depend on a higher gpa and how important is the student's time, since missing important information in class might lead to more study time in the future? These questions bring the customer focus back on the student and then they get to make the decision on how important their time is and how it's best spent. A teacher might also ask other students how distracted others texting is to them and why. If everyone agrees it's distracting and could cost them money or time and both are important, then perhaps the class as a whole can determine when and where in the classroom texting can happen. Perhaps texting can be allowed in the back of the room, while standing (if able). The key for the teacher is to avoid this as a distraction and to focus on his customers, who are really interested in the education he or she is selling…To be a customer, someone has to buy what you're selling and not just be in the room buying into the conversation being texted. If they are in the standing in the back of your room, ignore them until they return and reengage.

  • Alan Altimont

    I don't disallow the use of phones in my classroom because I now have students who read their texts on their phones. I do not allow texting, and I see that as little different from, say, two or three students carrying on a conversation in class that goes on too long and clearly has no bearing on the subject at hand. I don't buy these concerns about hypocrisy or squeamishness about power in the classroom. If some of our colleagues are just as loutish as some of our students, they should be called out for it as well. Flip the classroom as much as you like–hell, do cartwheels–you cannot completely escape the power difference between teacher and student, nor should one wish to. Think of all the behaviors you would not in the past allow in class (I hope): reading the newspaper; refusing to cooperate with or participate in small group activities; loud, disruptive talk; badgering a classmate; etc. Power does not require one to be a tyrant; exercised judiciously, it is absolutely necessary to the make learning possible for most of the people in your classroom. Just because the latest distractions are these bright, shiny toys (when used inappropriately), does not mean we need surrender to the trend. Indeed, instructing students in appropriate versus inappropriate uses of technology in the classroom may be part of every professor's job for the foreseeable future. A boss or overseer is likely to be a lot harsher than we are.

  • Margaret Winslow

    Re: digital devices in classes. Students, their parents, and government aid costs a lot of money. The goal is to expose students for a brief time in their lives to critical thinking, new knowledge, and new ways of thinking about knowledge. Research consistently concludes that distractions of any kind (electronic devices, music, chitchat, construction activities, babies crying) counter this effort. As I point out in class: they can text, etc. anytime outside of class. With 168 hours per week available, direct contact in classes is usually no more than 12-15 hours. Doesn't seem like a lot to ask. And FACULTY doing the same in meetings with colleagues is unconscionable!

  • Margaret Winslow

    Sorry: meant to write: "Education, whether paid for by students, parents, or government aid, costs a lot of money."

  • Joyce Claterbos

    I see multitasking with electronics as having two different impacts on student learning. For the individual using electronics during class, multitasking degrades their learning. For their peers, use of electronics by another student can be a distraction that is being inflicted on them involuntarily. I do have a no-electronics policy in the syllabus for my classes of 200-300 students and I share with them the research on how multitasking negatively affects their learning. I strongly enforce the no-electronics policy for any laptop/tablet use in the classroom because of its visibility. Using these larger-screen devices is a major involuntary distractor for those around them. Any use of laptops or tablets is so blatant that ignoring it will erode the enforceability of any policy in the syllabus. I am more relaxed when it comes to cellphones. Cellphone use is much more private and as long as it does not distract other students, I don't make a point of it. If it rings or other students complain, I enforce the policy. The idea of respect for me as a teacher is a separate issue. Respect for another person, whether it is me or a fellow student, is part of exhibiting courtesy and professionalism. I do see part of my responsibility as a teacher as helping them understand courtesy and professionalism. Regrettably, some students are surprised to learn that the incorrect use of electronics can be discourteous and unprofessional. If a individual student choses to violate the no-electronics policy, they are being discourteous and unprofessional. Their fellow students seem to see that as the violator's shortcoming, not a lack of respect towards me. Insofar as respect, I hope I earn their respect through my teaching and professionalism.

  • Dr. D. M. Steinberg

    Seems to me that students will get whatever they give in class, so as long as they can respond to an on-the-spot demand for work from the instructor (an unexpected question, demand for commentary, etc.) in a cogent and related way, then we shouldn't spend an overly amount of time on this issue, since it isn't going away any time soon. What we want is attention; if they can show that they are indeed paying attention, then perhaps just to let it lie is the way to go. Dr. Steinberg, Research Methods, Simmons College School of Social Work

  • Gonzalo Munevar

    My job is to make sure that learning takes place. Cell phone use disrupts learning. Therefore it is my job to make sure that students don't use their cell phones in class.

  • Kathleen

    My policy has been that no calls can be made during class. If a call comes in, and is an emergency, the student must quietly step outside of the room. I once had an incident in which a student received a call, became loud, and actually started an altercation with another student who asked her to be quiet because she was trying to hear the professor. The student quickly became so out of control that, in the end, I had to order her (who happened to be my favorite) out of the room, and forbid her to return. I reported the incident that had become verbally quite violent, and Administration backed me up, arranging for her to get tutoring to finish out the term, which satisfied me. A few days later, she apologized, understood that my "tough love" was for her own good and, after that, I always got a big hug and kiss whenever I ran into her on campus. She was a young mother who needed to learn that "going into my zone" was not an acceptable excuse for her behavior in the big wide world if she wanted to keep a job to support her child. I don't see why professors complain they have no control over cell phone use. You either take command of your classroom or you don't.

  • Amy

    I agree that electronics can pose a distraction in the classroom. I'm less concerned however by the occasional text message when compared to students watching Netflix on their laptops. Also, I will say that faculty are also terrible abusers of cell phones as a distraction. I can't remember the last time I have been in a meeting or presentation that every single faculty in the room didn't have a device out – checking email or anything other than listening to the presentation.

    • Valeen

      What teachers do at faculty meetings – also rude – doesn't excuse anything a student does.

  • Neil

    I am not an appeaser and I see no reason cell phones are need I class. When teachers try to appease students by making cell phone usage part of class, it only allows students to feign class-directed cell pone usage for social use. Again, the grownups, who are supposed to be in charge, are conceding defeat to a group of kids many of whom haven't reached puberty. This just shows how teachers and mainly administrators have no backbone. They are no more concerned about the education of our children than the federal government with their "one-test-fits-all" multiple choice mentality.

    When someone grows a set of testicles and realizes that most students cannot focus on the subject matter and socialize at the same time, then maybe someone will push for legislation banning cell phones from schools. If it is illegal everywhere, then the problem might be contained. And, before someone starts yelling about their poor grandmother in a hospital dying – there is a phone in the front office and parents can always call the school. This has worked for almost a century.

  • rogervandenbusch

    As a trained and formerly licensed therapist, I share with my students what I think are the four stages of cell phone addiction as evidenced by students’ behavior in the classroom or my observations at faculty/staff meetings or workshops.

    Stage 1 — the cell phone is not visible, but readily available to access at any given second.

    Stage 2 — the cell phone is visible — it can be seen at all times on the desk or in one’s lap.

    Stage 3 — the cell phone is touched, fingered, or held with great reluctance to let go.

    Stage 4 – the cell phone is activated at the risk of the instructor’s policy on cell phones in class; the student’s addiction is sometimes normalized when the student can use the cell phone to research topics relative to the class.

  • Suzie Null

    The issue to me is about student accountability. It seems as if some students BOTH want to use their cellphones or other devices in class AND expect professors to address any gaps in their understanding and help them catch up if they fall behind. Students are adults. They need to learn to balance and monitor their own gadget use. But they also need to accept the consequences of their own decisions and actions. Some will need to learn the hard way, but that means our faculty and college administrators need to let them learn instead of pressuring faculty to ensure certain pass rates or have all high evaluations. I don't mind treating students like adults and allowing them to determine how and when their cellphones are most helpful, but I do mind being asked to re-explain directions because they weren't listening (which also isn't fair to the class), or having to spend office hours going back over assignments with them or having them ask me to re-grade their work because they didn't understand what to do and now are freaking out that their grades are low. Students who use cellphones need to take responsibility for the impact that has on their learning.

    • Suzie

      Conversely, if students have the philosophy that it is my job to ensure that they learn, they should also give me the power to act en loco parentis and take their gadgets away if I perceive them to be a distraction.

      For me, the issue is not about power and control, as the article implies. It is more about not being blamed or negatively impacted for students' poor decisions. I would say that students' cellphone use has been disempowering to many professors, given that we have little, if any, power over what students do, but are increasingly held accountable for students' learning.

    • SMP

      Good points all, Suzie. I understand the reticence to encourage protracted childhood, but the reality is that many of our students (esp. many first semester freshman) behave more like children than adults, and, cognitively, they are not fully formed adults. As such, they require structure that helps them avoid self-defeating behaviors, including instruction in the perils of digital (and other) distractions. When offered, such instruction if often greeted with knowing, if grudging, acceptance and gratitude. Not always so when non-traditional students are thrown into the mix.

  • mike

    As a student,I do not recall a single day in any of my classes when I needed to rush out of the classroom to make a call. This was before cell phones. Today, what my students consider emergencies are not. Yet they really believe that they are. In my classes, cell phones are not allowed for obvious reasons. Helicopter parents manipulate their children into believing that they must keep their phones at the ready in case they need to contact their babies. It is really sad. A few of my students break the rules everyday. When they do I tell them to put their toys away. Yes, I shame them so that they will understand the adult world, where people should not (yes, some do) play with their electronic toys in the presence of others. They need to be taught to be in the moment, not elsewhere. When they get bored, they reach for their toys as children do. College students are not children. It is my job to mold them into class A students. Teachers who allow cell phone use want to look cool, and like parents who also want to be perceived as the cool ones, are lazy and selfish. I am no hypocrite. I do not use my phone during meetings and am appalled by those who do. Immature. Disrespectful. Silly. It is time for parents, teachers and college students to grow up. Teachers pay students a great disservice by not disciplining their students. Unfortunately, because of a few, I do not allow lap top use either, having caught too many on social networks as I am trying hard to explain an assignment. No wonder they turn in awful essays, and have to be reminded of every detail. Their attention spans are being ruined by technology abuse.

  • jim8107

    I am surprised that so much time and effort is being wasted over this. I don't have much respect for professors who solicit their students for ideas on how the class should be run. Why don't you let them teach the class while you are at it? They are there to learn, you are there to teach them. Experimentation / utilization of different pedagogical techniques to improve learning is fine, so long as there is no doubt who is in charge and is ultimately responsible for decorum in the classroom. My policy is that electronic devices may be used in conjunction with with my presentation, but if I catch cell phone calls or social media, it is one letter grade off at the end of the term. Period. No problems.

  • SMP

    Basic fact: the texting student distracts himself, other students, and the instructor, thereby undermining student learning and the instructor's efforts to create an environment conducive to learning for ALL students. A policy banning non-course-related cell phone use, therefore, makes sense. And since it is unrealistic to expect students to use cell phones in class for course-related business but not for personal business, it is even more sensible to ban cell phone use outright. Here's a question: Knowing that cell phone use undermines student learning more often than not, is it ethical to not take steps to keep them out of the classroom?

    But such a policy will amount to little if anything unless it is enforced. Enforcement need not be particularly confrontational. In my classes (these days taught in a large [180-student] computer-rich SCALE-UP room, where cell phone technology is redundant), a student who uses his cell phone during class is counted absent, and therefore unable to participate, for the day. Student participation, tracked by my assistants, counts for a significant part of the final grade. I find this arrangement works well. It also helps to share with students research findings concerning the importance of focus and humans' relatively weak ability to multitask effectively when one of the tasks requires undivided attention.

  • Joseph Olubadewo

    It seems that the studies cited have sufficient evidence upon which to base a proposal for devising a way (policy) to ban cell phones in the classrooms. When we see students are not able to learn efficiently because of cell phone use during lectures, why do we want to condone the attitude? Are we as faculty scared of exercising control over our classes? There seems to be a consensus that it is considered rude and disrespectful and distracting to both fellow students and faculty when a student uses a cell phone during lecture, why then are we advocating condoning such behavior? I think we should seek for means of enforcing discipline rather than throwing in the towel and accepting defeat by allowing student indiscipline to rule the day during our lectures.

  • Susan Farmer

    Unless they’re distracting other students, I don’t care. If they want to be stupid enough to not pay attention, that’s their problem not mine.

    If you make a big deal out of something as trivial, what do you do when you NEED to make a big deal out of something?

  • Erhard Wiedemann

    My thoughts on the subject are very basic. I'll start with the concept of "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink". I can teach, train, instruct or pontificate to my hearts content, but if the student does not want to learn, they will not. If they do not want to listen, they will not.
    Students need to understand your basic ground rules in your interaction with them. If they are told what your expectations are from the start, they will generally work with you. I have found that in the VET sector, trainers do not set out their expectations or do not clearly articulate their expectations. Mind you, some don't even have expectations of their students….
    As a trainer, I keep my ego out of the equation. I simply make the point that all phone must be switched off or on silent. I tell them that should they feel the need to make a phone call or receive a phone call that they must leave the room and return when they are finished. I advise them that ringtones in the classroom are distracting to those engaged in learning. (reasons)
    I also tell them that should they feel the need to text, they should also leave the room, complete their texting then return. I make the point of telling them that it is rude and disrespectful and should I do that in the course of my teaching, that they would have a low opinion of me and have cause to complain about my behaviour.
    Once they understand what I expect, I don't have any issues and it's rare that mobile devices are a problem either for me or other students.
    I also encourage the student to use their smartphone or other mobile devices to assist them in the teaching sessions they are engaged in and they generally share what they learn from them with their fellow students.
    Most of the student I deal with are required to be technologically savvy because of the nature of the industry they are entering, so it's a bit rich to ban them from the technology they will have to use.
    The other thing I do is to engage with each individual student. If the student feels engaged in the presentation of what they are learning and the presentation style is not boring, they will generally leave the devices alone and focus on the instructor.

  • Karyn Smith

    I am not an entertainer and I resent the requirement that I be so engaging that students are persuaded to put down their electronic device. The classroom dynamic requires a balance between instructors presenting content and student receptive to participating in the dialogue. How many conversations have you continued when the other party lost interest and began to engage with someone else in the room?

    I teach college freshmen in class sessions that are scheduled to last 50 minutes. If students cannot focus on what is unfolding before them for that time frame, I shudder to consider their ability to devote the time needed to do the course requirements outside of class. I see students treating on-line quizzes and exercises and homework like video games and racing through them just to 'get 'er done'. I see students submitting work to me without any evidence of proofing their drafts before submitting it for a grade. I see writing riddled with writing errors that mimic a text message.

    I insist on standards adopting a professional work ethic in the classroom to get into the habits that make make them more professional after they leave the classroom. If they use a phone, it is reserved for academic pursuits as I expect students to appreciate the distinction between personal and professional use. I believe we do a disservice to students when we accept less and excuse it as the new normal.

  • Valeen

    No cell phones or other electronic devices is the college policy where I teach. But it also definitely a classroom policy of mine. I will stop what I am doing and ask students to put away their devices. I think it is a lazy way for students to learn. I also teach ESL, and the students like to use a translation app. I only let them use an English-English dictionary because then they boost their vocabulary knowledge rather than letting their phone do all the learning for them.
    I think it is rude. I have spent a lot of time and effort preparing my lessons, so I do expect them to pay attention to me. Before I got so strict about cell phones, I noticed that the students always on their phones were the ones who did not excel or even do reasonably well in the course. There was also a lot of cheating going on using cell phones: texting answers back and forth during quizzes, taking pictures of answer to help those who were absent, etc. They like to take pictures of the notes on the board rather than write it down. How sad considering that writing it down helps them to learn the material.
    At this point, I don't even want to see or hear a cell phone in my classroom. l asked a student once when the Civil War had taken place. She said, "Why would I want to know that? I can always look it up on the internet." What a sad reflection of what technology has done to our young people. I would never want to encourage that kind of an attitude by allowing cell phone use in my classroom. There is simply no need for a cell phone. It does not promote learning. On the contrary.

  • Patti McMann

    I used to have a strict cell phone policy stated on my syllabi, and I would say something if I caught a student looking at a phone. I have even offered extra credit as an incentive for keeping cell phones in pockets and backpacks. These worked on some students, others ignored my policy. I decided to take a different approach and put on my syllabi that cell phones need to e silenced and put in pockets and backpacks during class, but if a student needs to take or make a call or text, please leave the room quietly, and return quietly. I have had much better luck addressing cell phone use during class time, and no disruptive cell phone use in class. This approach puts the decision to act like an adult on the student, and I don't have to police cell phone use in class. So far, this is working well.

    • anonymous

      I have followed this same approach and it worked fine for me. Until I got that ONE student.

      She will be oblivious that she is not acting like an adult. She won't care if she's disturbing students around her. She will pretend she's not texting as she looks at her lap behind and arms under the table. She's fine with you docking her grade. You will have to physically remove her from the room or remove the phone from her cold, dead hands. (And, yes, it will probably be a female. Just sayin' from my own experience.)

  • I believe mobiles are the best teaching tools. I do mobile based Teaching in my classes every single day. This helps students in ‘learning to learn’.

    • mike

      What the heck is "mobile based teaching'?

  • Jeff

    "If we get too focused on the problem, then isn’t that taking away time we could be using to shape our content in interesting ways and to devise activities that so effectively engage students they forget to check devices? "

    Anyone show me someone who can create a course in which intro students, taking the required intro course, can keep all students off the cell phone for 75 minutes, twice a week?

    • mike

      Tell them to pace their toys on your desk for the period. It works. Out of sight–out of mind.

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  • Johanna

    Thank you for the post I've been waiting for! Use of smart phones in class is not a millennial problem, it's not a student problem, it's a human problem–or not a problem? It's a cultural shift. If we want to influence students to use their phones appropriately and with consideration to others around them, banning them is not the answer. We should be helping students become professionals that can manage the distraction within their pockets, by teaching appropriate and educational uses for them, while understanding that the culture around us is changing and what is and is not appropriate is too!

  • Andrea

    I do not set any policy regarding the use of smartphones in my class….however, one of my classes is a seminar class and thus students are expected to be engaged with each other. I find texting during class to be disrespectful to all not just the professor but is also a reflection of what is happening in society as a whole. How many times have you observed people texting on on their phones while out at dinner. I do not have a solution to the classroom issue but for me it is about connecting or not connecting with people, civility, and respect for all individuals. Life is not just about us as individuals; it is about us as part of a family of people wherever that group or family is.

  • SMP

    Basic fact: the texting student distracts himself, other students, and the instructor, thereby undermining student learning and the instructor's efforts to create an environment conducive to learning for ALL students. A policy banning non-course-related cell phone use, therefore, makes sense. And since it is unrealistic to expect students to use cell phones in class for course-related business but not for personal business, it is even more sensible to ban cell phone use outright. Here's a question: Knowing that cell phone use undermines student learning more often than not, is it ethical to not take steps to keep them out of the classroom?

    • Valeen

      I have a colleague who walks around with a basket and collects phones that she sees out. I simply stop mid-sentences and tell them to put it away. I don't believe there is anything educational-worthy on a cell phone. And I don't have lessons where we use technology. They do have an outside-class lab they attend at the lab center. I would answer you – it is not ethical to allow the distraction that phones are in a classroom.

  • Peggy Mueller

    This is an interesting article. I wonder if the cell phone isn’t the mode of picking up a wandering attention. After all, our attention span is only so long. Maybe what needs to be focused on is how to herd the attention back to the subject at hand after the detour.

  • Marjory Thrash

    Long ago when dragons roamed the earth, I taught in an alternative high school filled with gang and KKK members. It was a tough crowd, and many of the students had committed violent acts against students, teachers, and administrators of their home schools. These students had a different sense of personal space, and it definitely included their property – I had a student jam a pencil into another student's hand over a dispute over that same pencil. Therefore, I regard a student's backpack, clothing, and electronics as personal space and NEVER mine to touch. I think any professor who takes a student's property is asking to be attacked.

    • Valeen

      That's like saying that any woman who walks around at night is asking to be raped. Now we should be letting the thugs in our society decide how we teach?

  • Chris L.

    So what? Should we ban cell phones from the workplace because of these apps? Employees should be working, not looking at their devices. So, let's ban devices from all workplaces. Turn them off, leave them in your car, etc. First time they are used you are sent home with pay docked; second time you are fired. Seems fair, right?

  • Lori Brack

    Some strategies I'm trying with pretty good results: 1) In the first-year composition course, I assign articles and research about how college students learn. These articles make a difference to how students use phones in and after our class together, and they write about how they use or depend on all kinds of technology and how it affects their learning. 2) I bring a basket to the developmental writing classes and ask students to deposit their phones. I put mine in, too. I share that this is an experiment and somewhere in the second half of the semester, I will ask them to write and talk about how the experiment went for them. On good days, these strategies feel integrated and helpful. The bad days are few and so far, the resistance has been minimal. My biased observation is that students in these classes spend more time communicating verbally with each other and with me, and their writing benefits from our engagement with each other.

    • Valeen

      Great strategies to dealing with cell phones in your classroom!

  • Akram Soomro

    Dear Professors,
    Its a wonderful article and its true that sometimes instead of making our teaching /lecture interesting we focus on other things which could be controlled by simply involving students in our discussion. i always make my students to feel that i am concerned about their learning, and what i do is very simple, i remember their names and whenever i feel that somebody is loosing interest i ask her/him by name and involve my student by inviting opinion of her/him and everything comes under control. so i think instead of control approach should be of engagement

  • Steve Loewen

    I suggest that it is unfair to assume that if students are using their smart phones during class that either the course material or the instructor is not engaging enough. There is a growing body of literature that studies smart phone addictions (for example see this PLOS ONE article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2009.03.001 and the literature cited). We may get farther if we can find ways to address the underlying anxiety (as an example of one precursor to this behaviour). There are likely other motivators for addictive smart phone use that we cannot so successfully address in the classroom.

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  • Health Science

    To quote a notable author – be careful not to be so open minded that your brains fall out of your head. The concern is not about the use of a cell phone, it's about the student being able to follow instructions.

  • The cell phone issue is one that will not disappear anytime soon. As an educator in high schools for the past 8 years, I've seen teachers battle them daily and lose every single time. Kids are sneaky, and if they want to use cell phones, they'll find a way to do so, no matter how often we forbid them to do so. Many of my colleges have adopted the "if you can't beat them, join them" mentality and given in, using the presence of cell phones to their educational advantage by allowing them to be used during class for educational purposes.

    The discomfort with cell phones is a generational issue in my opinion. In my experience, the teachers and professors who have the most issues with their presence are those who have taught for a long time and see technology advancement as a threat rather than a tool. Cell phones aren't going anywhere, so use them to your advantage.

  • Michael M.

    Like many of your astute, wise and 'seasoned' observations, Maryellen, you're on the mark, again!

    In my on-campus classrooms, I have observed a direct correlation between my regular (almost daily/per-class-session) energy and focus on active learning/engaged teaching and the phenomena of all-device-use. Put simply, I care more about my efforts to engage students than students' efforts to be engaged. Based on results, it seems to be working for me. I find that, if I'm passionate about content, enthused in my delivery, caring about my students as learners, and consistently representing my "high bar" expectations for their attentiveness, cell phones and other devices are simply just NOT an issue. They're not. Period.

    As to the hypocritical dimension to this, let's not kid ourselves: this issue is as old as the day is long. With some concern about – and study of – teaching and learning through history, I was fascinated to discover some of the details of Galileo's university experience. Recalcitrant. Disruptive. Uninterested. And, yes (here it comes…..) distracted! Teachers have been plagued by the quandary of their students' preoccupations for centuries. Doodling, daydreaming, mischief with classmates. It's not like this is new.

    I take the hypocrisy issue a step further. What the distracted-by-device issue can mean for us is that we teach differently and, I dare say, we work harder at our teaching and preparation. Do I magically appear before my students and deliver killer lessons to full-engaged, note-taking young scholars who absorb, integrate and act on all of my course content for every class I teach? Please!

    BUT…….do I care enough about the time I have with my students – time that they (and/or their parents/guardians) have paid or borrowed money for – to prepare well a class session that welcomes, invites and encourages THEIR ideas about the content I'm trying to deliver? I try. Do I write course policies in my syllabi that focus more on positive, high expectations for students' engagement, and intentionally de-emphasizes draconian policies (and consequences) for cell phone use? I try. Do I make every effort to understand this Millennial crowd – you know them: born with earbuds attached, building their Facebook enclaves, snap-chatting and video-gaming their leisure time away – and accept that they are, potentially, today's Galileos? I try.

  • michael hasenstab

    I tried having students put their toys on my desk during class. It works. Most of the students say that is a great idea. Now, I do it only on occasion to remind them to be nice. It seems to work. I have not had ONE issue all semester long ever since I used this idea. Thank, Lori!

  • Kosiba Oshodi-Glover

    I very much agree on the point that was made about the hypocrisy of faculty using their phones during school hours. If a teacher or faculty member were sitting in a meeting, it would be just as hard for them to concentrate on the content that is being discussed if they are too busy on their phones just as it would be for students. If we ban cell phone use in schools it needs to be banned for everyone, both faculty and student.

  • Tyler

    Good article