There has been much discussion about the “distraction” of students using laptops in the classroom (University Affairs has a least a couple of articles on the topic, here and here). But, interestingly, I’ve seen relatively less discussion on the use of the equally ubiquitous cellphone in the classroom setting. I was therefore intrigued by a recent survey by two psychology professors at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania on the “use and abuse” of cellphones by students, published in the journal College Teaching. A good summary of the research can be found in March 2012 issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter, which I’ve cribbed from for this post.
The professors, Deborah Tindell and Robert Bohlander, surveyed 269 university students – from first year to fourth year – in 36 different courses. The students answered 26 questions about their use of cellphones as well as their observations regarding the cellphone use of their peers.
Nearly all students (99 percent) reported having a cellphone and 95 percent reported that they brought their phones to class every day; 92 percent admitted that they had sent or received a text message during class and 30 percent reported that they sent and received messages in class every day. As well, 97 percent said they had seen texting being done by other students in the classroom. I doubt many professors would be surprised by these findings.
Interestingly, the students felt that their instructors did not know they were texting – almost half “indicated that it is easy to text in class without the instructor being aware.” Of greater interest, 10 percent of students said they had sent or received a text message during an exam, with nine percent saying it was easy to do so. However, suspiciously, 33 percent of students chose not to answer this question. The authors write, “Failure to answer could be seen as a reflection of the respondents’ desire to either not risk self-incrimination, or to not reveal to faculty that texting during an exam is a possibility.”
When asked about cellphone policies that they might suggest, the students had little to offer beyond being allowed to use them so long as they don’t disturb others. According to The Teaching Professor summary, faculty policies described in the article include confiscating any phones that are being used for texting; or if a student is observed texting, some professors count that student as absent for the day.
Professors, what would you do in a similar situation? Do you tolerate cellphone use in class?
The article by Drs. Tindell and Bohlander includes references to several studies documenting how texting interferes with and compromises learning.