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.”
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?