Our colleague Carol Kirves shared a link to a post from NPR-affiliate WKMS titled “How to Get Students to Stop Using Their Cell Phones in Class.” Author Anya Kamenetz describes a strategy employed by Dr. Doug Duncan at the University of Colorado Boulder. Duncan and others have done research noting the frequency of cell phone use in class, as well as the detriment performance that accompanies the inability to put down the phone.
After a unanimous class vote, Duncan offered his students an extra class point for leaving their phones on Duncan’s desk during class. That’s right, he “pays” (bribes? positively reinforces?) his students for turning off their phones. Another professor at a different institution said that he found that asking students to forgo cell phone usage during class was too stressful, so he avoids that cruel-and-unusual tactic by scheduling frequent cell phone breaks, starting with 1 minute between breaks and increasing over a few weeks to 30 minutes. Seriously.
Here’s how I deal with this. My A&P students are free to use their phones during class to take photos of models, microscopic slides, the class displays, and almost anything else that they find helpful. They may not text during class. Many of them are solo parenting and/or have deployed family members. They may leave their phones on silent mode on their desks and leave to answer them as they deem necessary. (This rarely happens…maybe once ever 4 or 5 classes.)
During assessments, any phone that must be on—never more than a couple—goes on my desk in silent mode. I have had to deliver a phone to a student during an exam exactly once in the last eight years, and, yes, it was important.
Cell phones are not going away. Learning how to manage them appropriately is a challenge for instructors and students alike. We’d love to hear your strategies. For now, I’m agreeing with our buddy at xkcd.com