I need your advice. Next semester I’ll be teaching two courses and I need to develop a policy on the student use of electronic devices in class, particularly with regard to texting.

The Associated Press just ran an article on this subject, which was striking for the kinds of responses given by instructors to the pervasive practice of texting in class:

Tindell instituted a no-texting policy as a result of the study, which has been presented at a pair of academic conferences. She tells students that if she even sees a cell phone during a test, its owner gets an automatic zero.

One Syracuse University professor has taken an even harsher stand.

Laurence Thomas, a popular philosophy professor whose courses have waiting lists, walked out on his class of nearly 400 students last week when he caught a couple of students fiddling with their phones instead of paying attention to him.

It wasn’t the first time Thomas has cut a class short because a student broke his no-texting rule. To Thomas, texting saps the class of its intellectual energy.

“My job is to engage the class, to give them stuff to think about,” he said. “They need to respect that.”

While Thomas keeps his eyes peeled for illicit texters, Tindell said most professors are likely as clueless as she used to be about the ubiquity of in-class cell phone use. Many of the surveyed students said their professors would be shocked if they knew about their texting habits.

I’m well aware that people text in my classes. I’m also aware that people have used electronic devices to cheat on in-class assignments. My own pedagogical philosophy is based in part on the idea that the ability to sit still and focus for 50 minutes is valuable in itself. This, in distinction to multi-tasking, an activity numerous studies have argued is a myth. For example:

In 2005, the BBC reported on a research study, funded by Hewlett-Packard and conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, that found, “Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.”

Or, again,

In one recent study, Russell Poldrack, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that “multitasking adversely affects how you learn. Even if you learn while multitasking, that learning is less flexible and more specialized, so you cannot retrieve the information as easily.” His research demonstrates that people use different areas of the brain for learning and storing new information when they are distracted: brain scans of people who are distracted or multitasking show activity in the striatum, a region of the brain involved in learning new skills; brain scans of people who are not distracted show activity in the hippocampus, a region involved in storing and recalling information.

In other words there is abundant evidence that texting in class is not only rude behavior– a clear signal to the teacher that the student does not believe the class merits his or her full attention– but that it ultimately diminishes effective learning.

If you have the time, please consider any or all of the following questions. How significant of an issue is in-class texting? How frequently do you text in class and how often do you observe others texting? Is it distracting? Should it be permitted? (Why?) What would a reasonable texting policy for class look like?

11 thoughts on “Text

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Text « analepsis -- Topsy.com

  2. Rachael Phillips

    The problem is here that texting is hard to change. I do text during class, but try not to. It is kind of like an addiction, but I believe that it is rude, however, it is not something that you can change unless you have someone walking up and down the isle in class. If I was a teacher and I saw someone texting I would take it. But other than that there isn’t much you can do because it is their private property and we aren’t in high school anymore.

  3. AL

    I text in all of my classes.

    The thing is though, when I’m in your class, I try to get it done as fast as possible so I can listen to the lecture and take notes and whatever. In other classes, I am bored and will take my time replying to a text.

    Texting during a test though? That’s just dumb. If it’s obvious someone is texting during a test, even if they aren’t cheating, then it’s a problem.

    I like what Rachael said though, it’s personal property and we’re not in high school anymore. It’s college: it’s the students responsibility to sign up for classes, pay tuition, go to class. If students aren’t paying attention or taking notes because they’re texting, then that’s their own fault.

    I think maybe I’ll try turning my phone off during class and see how that goes.

  4. Lauren Grace Gonzales

    I know this may sound absurd, but I feel like texting during class is like texting while you’re driving. First, texting in class is ‘dangerous’ in the way that it hinders you from learning important and crucial information. Your instructor has took the time out of their day(s) to plan lecture, and present it to you in a manner that will be understandable and relevant to their students. I believe students who constantly stay attached to their phones texting in class just shouldn’t go if they are in no way interested–it personally bothers me when I see other students in the lecture hall texting, not taking notes, playing games on their iTouch/iPhone, and looking at pictures on Facebook because I understand the struggle of what other students would do to have these students’ place in this class if they are just going to waste their time, money, and effort going to class just to text while an instructor is teaching. I personally think that texting shouldn’t be permitted because you can go through 50 minutes in your day without talking to someone. School is meant for learning, not dealing with other business via text. If I were an instructor, I would tell my students to just turn their phones off during class.

    1. Hunter Ridenour

      ok, while its rude and all. is there a realistic solution to the problem? i would say probably not. with a huge lecture class its very hard to curb what goes on. A smaller classroom affords more freedom to watch for texters and then potentially punish them, by docking points or whatever. but its just not realistic in a huge class.

      1. Metowhite

        Hunter. Hmm maybe thats why he’s not lecturing any big 100+students classes next semester ;P VIAL should be lectured in a smaller class in the future

  5. B

    The biggest problem for me and texting in class is that the class is so big (VIAL). I can honestly say that if the class size was smaller it would be much easier for me to focus on the material because it would be a more intimate setting.The information you give us is so rich that i really feel like it should be hashed out alot more than we do. I love your class it’s just hard to have conversations about the texts and material when you’ve got 100+ people in a class and half of them are asleep.

    1. apciv Post author

      I am absolutely in agreement with you about class size. VIAL is absurdly large. I would like nothing better than to teach a class of 20 or so students. Conversations flow naturally in that kind of atmosphere and relationships between people are established. The classroom is supposed to be a space for dialogue, of give-and-take. When students engage, the enthusiasm– my enthusiasm, anyway– increases. It’s very difficult to hit the optimum pitch of intellectual energy when the environment itself is putting us to sleep.

  6. Stan Parkford

    I agree, Connelly.
    I had Dr. Lynch once, for that intro Psych class, and I swear to God, it drove me NUTS when she would stop her whole lecture, in front of 600+ students, to single out one student who was texting. I say, let them do what they want. Think social Darwinism: the good ones (students) will succeed, and well, leave the “unfit” behind (let them fail themselves). In smaller classes, a slightly different story. I’ve always felt that professors should concern themselves with both effectively communicating the skills & information for the course, and attend to those who are already interested and engaged in the class. I would feel foolish, if I was a professor, for snatching a cell phone out of a student’s hand. C’mon, what is this? At this point in the academic process, if someone is texting during class, it is certainly unfortunate, but no one else’s concern. Students pay for this school, so I view the whole institution as a product, one that I can use effectively or wastefully. If a professor is distracted by a cell phone being out, I’m afraid this person might need to get their grounds on both the current age we live in, and the particular institution they are teaching at. All in all, my belief is that the professor must only engage, interact, and teach with students, not police them.

    Of course, all of this is negated in the case of tests. No cellphones during this time. No more comment. 🙂

  7. Gulvinder Botta

    Hi, Sir.

    I came across your site and you seem to be knowledgeable on several subjects – including education. Can you please tell me what you think about this project/activity? Is it true that CA high school students do not need to take a standardized test and have the ability to rebel?

    All the best,

  8. Cristina

    Last year one of my professors said that if she caught anyone texting she had the right to look at their convo and say it out loud. She also said that if the phone rings during class she will answer it! We were laughing at first until the day came when a student’s phone went off. And she answered it! It was funny. And it made people stop texting and put their phones on silent. 🙂

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