cell phones in college classrooms
In a September 2012 post I briefly highlighted a number of studies documenting that most students don’t multi-task well. When they’re texting, looking at Facebook, or cruising on the Internet and listening to a lecture or discussion and trying to take notes, they aren’t dealing with the content as well as they would be if they just focused on listening and note taking. And the evidence of that keeps accumulating, like the Kuznekoff and Titsworth study referenced here and described in detail in the January issue of The Teaching Professor. Using an intriguing study design, here’s what they found: “. . . students who use their mobile phones during class lectures tend to write down less information, recall less information, and perform worse on a multiple-choice test than those students who abstain from using their mobile phones during class.” (p. 251).
As 2013 draws to a close, the editorial team at Faculty Focus looks back on some of the most popular articles of the past year. During the course of the year, we published more than 250 articles on a full range of topics of interest to today’s college educators.
It’s time we started exploring some of the tough questions on texting. The May issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter contains highlights from a survey of almost 300 marketing majors about their texting in class. The results confirm what I’m guessing many of us already suspect. A whopping 98% of the students reported that they had texted some time during the term in which the data was collected. They did so for an unimpressive set of reasons, the most popular being “I just wanted to communicate.” Fifty-six percent of the cohort said they were currently taking a class in which the teacher banned texting. Forty-nine percent said they texted anyway.
Are we old fuddy-duddies when we ask (demand) students to put away their cell phones in the classroom or clinical areas? Students tell me this is just the way it is now, but I disagree. I teach courses in health sciences. Students practice in the hospitals, interacting with and caring for real patients. My colleagues and I have found students with their phones in their pockets, in their socks, and in their waist bands in order to have access to their precious smart phones but still hide them from instructors. We have found students sitting on stools texting while the hospital preceptors did the work. Some students are one phone call or text away from dismissal from the program before they stop using cell phones in classroom or clinical setting. What is the answer to this problem? Are faculty members being too demanding by placing cell phone restrictions in syllabi or clinical handbooks?
My class had just finished covering three chalkboards with a rather dazzling array of concept clusters, illustrations, and links among disparate ideas. Clearly, a lot of learning had been generated. As I picked up the eraser to clear the board, I mentioned it was too bad that Chelsea and Eric (who were absent) had missed this vibrant discussion.
The first time a student’s cell phone rang in my class, I was angry and frustrated. With their musical ringers, cell phones that go off in class are rude and distracting. But how to respond? I’ve never been very good at playing the heavy. Was there any way I could take this annoying occurrence and twist so that it would contribute to a more positive classroom environment?
In case you ever had any doubts, research verifies that both students and teachers find cell phones ringing in class distracting. The results also document strong support from students and faculty for policies against ringing cell phones. Although there was strong support against cell phones going off in class, the strength of that support was mediated by age. The younger cohort in the study was more tolerant of cell phones than the older cohort.