Cell Phones in Class: Boon or Bane?

Building SkillsOur 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.size1_55463_175339-children-using-smartphone

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


3 comments on “Cell Phones in Class: Boon or Bane?

  1. Brian Leslie Coatney says:

    Is the phone a new invasion into the classroom unlike other distractions? The cartoon suggests that new technology does not mean a new problem since the issue has been around for 200 years. But is the phone in the classroom different? Television watching is not an option for students in the classroom, but reading materials are, or doodling, or writing and passing notes, or sleeping, or doing assignments for other classes, or gazing off into the distance, or imagining being on a beach, or …etc. There’s always something. The phone does command a of attention. what could replace it as the next diversion? Who knows.

  2. myevette2000 says:

    Although I never had a huge problem with cell phones, I did have one or two who felt they had to text during class. I finally gave them a choice, phones on silent with no texting or phones in back packs. We went with the silent way. I had one true emergency each semester. I also spent some time talking about what was a real emergency. I think your policy is great.

  3. Patricia Barnett says:

    I encourage my students to use their cell phones in class. They do their research, spell checks, and take notes. Why fight it? Cell phone and the hands that are stuck to them are here to stay.

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