Time to Catch Up

After reading “A Losing Battle,” by Rob Jenkins, last October, I decided to update my own policy on cellphones in the classroom. I actually completely overhauled my syllabus to make it more concise, so I combined the cellphone policy and the e-mail policy into one technology policy.

My syllabus used to read as follows:

Cell Phones
Silence the phone before class starts. Using your phone during class is rude to me and your classmates. Using your phone includes, but is not limited to, texting, reading texts, playing games, and searching the internet.

We will probably use e-mail many times this semester. Please remember when sending e-mails that much of this course is about proper writing. I understand that brevity is necessary in e-mails, but please, no “text” language; use real sentences. Also, remember to sign your e-mails as I do not know everyone’s e-mail address.

The e-mail stuff is simple and seems obvious, but the cellphone stuff was, as Jenkins says, a losing battle. And I should have been losing.

Cellphones can actually be useful. It was hard for me to tell a student to put the phone away when the student was just adding one of my assignments to the phone’s calendar. It was hard for me to enforce the policy when a student forgot to bring the reading to class and was looking at it on the phone via the Blackboard link. In the middle of a discussion about current news, I couldn’t allow myself to enforce the policy if a student checked the phone for updates to the story (this happened last semester with Benghazi, Sandy, the campaign, and some other events).

So I changed the policy. Now it reads as follows:

You are welcome to bring technology to the classroom as long as you can handle it responsibly and respectfully. That means not carrying on conversations—either out loud or in text form—and not playing games in class. We may use your cell phones, laptops, or other technology in the classroom. We will also use e-mail and Blackboard many times this semester. Again, be respectful to me and your classmates when using these.

Despite what some of my critics here claim, I am not completely naïve. I know students are going to chat with friends, play games, or do other inappropriate things. But I think I’m OK with that, as long as they can do those things while learning. Some of that is up to me to be more engaging than Draw Something. Some of it is up to them.

Jenkins says the classroom will look different in five years, and he’s right only because most classrooms are too far behind the rest of the world, which already looks different and embraces this technology. It’s time to catch up.

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