Why can’t I use my phone in class?
This question may or may not be something you wonder depending on your professor(s). In my classes, the syllabus states:
- Texting, surfing, or any other out of class communication should be kept to the back rows of the classroom. Such behavior has no impact on your grade, but equally, the lack of attention in class means you should not expect me to make an effort in helping you deal with topics you miss in class due to lack of attention.
- Cell phones should be kept silent (including vibration) during class.
In my classes, I allow devices to be used, but I require two things. First, you do not cause interruptions for other people who want to learn and focus. This is the reason I ask that laptops and phones to be used at the back. People like looking at screens, and if you are in the front row of the class on a YouTube page or social media site then a high number of students will be distracted and will look at your screen. Second, if you are not paying attention, then don’t expect me to repeat materials for you. Attention (just like attendance) is a choice that you get to make.
Why can’t I use my phone in THIS class?
There are, however, professors who strictly ban devices and screens from their classes. Is this fair? That’s an interesting question/debate that I’ve had with many of my colleagues where I come from the allow-in-class side. What I have found from these discussions is there are two reasons for banning devices. In their minds, instructors are either trying to help you focus by banning devices or view the activity of checking your devices in their lecture as rude.
I find the second argument, rudeness, fascinating based on my experiences at academic meetings and conferences. In a room at one of these gatherings of 20 people, I’m happy and surprised to make a presentation where 5 of those people are paying attention without looking at a screen at some point in my fifteen minute presentation (maybe I’m just a bad presenter). Therefore, since my colleagues can’t separate from their screens, how can I force my students to. In modern day society, the rudeness of focusing on your screen even in mid-conversation is not considered bad manners in some circles (not all).
Helping you to focus and control your screen addictions is a noble goal, but I believe that this is a personal challenge for all first generation cyborgs (my designation for anyone with a smartphone). We all need to learn and practice our ability to focus (to recommended books of interest: Focus and Willpower).
But I need [device X] for …
The counter arguments that I’ve heard from students is the need for the device in class to learn. Sure, there are certain situations where this makes sense. For example, I’ve been known to ask my classes if they could look up something online for all of us.
If you think these devices are good for taking note, then you appear to be wrong. An article (The pen is mightier than the keyboard) written by Mueller and Oppenheimer reports results from their study that finds that a laptop is worse for retaining the lecture compared to traditional pen and paper.
Also, your smartphone is not a good scientific calculator (at present) since it is very unlikely that you will be allowed to use it in exams. Instead, your base calculator and scientific calculator (my beloved TI-85) need to be used regularly so that you can learn how to use that device. There’s nothing worse than having to learn how to use a function on your calculator during an exam or quiz.
Some classes have come up with ways to integrate modern technology. Twitter or other social collaborative methods (such as wikis) have been effectively used to allow real-time questions and collaboration from students. There will be other innovations too, but we still seem to be in an era of technology is lauded as the great learning device, but soon becomes sometimes beneficial to learning on rare occasions.