cell phones

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Hello all,

I am curious as to how others strategize creatively about intervening on the invasion of cell phone presence/use in classrooms. By use, I mean students playing with them, text-messaging at the sides of their legs, leaving them on "accidentally," etc. I have tried many different approaches, and each semester, the problem seems to get more intense and absurd. If you need more info to contextualize this, I can send that along later.  

I am just finding that this cell problem -- students obsessively playing with their cells like they are little vibrators in the classroom -- intersects in major ways with how my work conditions are pretty intolerable, making for a distracting and uncomfortable environment all around. I am dealing with major physical plant issues -- an overheated classroom in an un-air-conditioned historic building on campus, an environmentally sick building, windows that won't open, construction going on during classes, complete with incessant banging and hammers above us, no parking, walking a good mile each way with heavy bags to teach, etc. Oh, and yes, this is a Research I, if people are wondering where this is situated.  

Thanks in advance for any ideas you may have!

Northwest transplant:
I've seen this technique work well. Put a statement in your syllabus about turning off and putting away cell phones during class. Add some points in the grading scale for courtesy and let students know that repeated cell use will cause them to lose points. At the beginning of every class session say "Please turn off and put away all cell phones." I'm a great believer in building carrots and sticks into the grading system to encourage responsible behavior and discourage irresponsiblity. It shouldn't be necessary, but sometimes it is. Of course, this assumes students care about their grades, and I realize that's not always the case. Good luck. I'd like to know if it works.

I have dealt with the similar problem of students talking during the class session, also a very distracting behavior. I tried different methods of addressing this and found that students did not react well to being told "don't do this," "don't do that." When I have interacted one on one with students about their disruptive behavior, they often act like they are a teenager and I am a parent telling them what to do. I have struggled with how to discuss acceptable classroom behavior without having a power struggle with my students. Now, on the first day of class I do an exercise created by Drew Appleby:

 1) I ask students to write down, anonymously, three behaviors instructors do that irritate them.

 2) I ask students to then write down, anonymously, three behaviors that students do that they think irritate instructors.

I collect the sheets and read from them. I let them know that I will not do most of the behaviors students answer for question #1 and I then discuss their answers. This alleviates their concerns about me. I discuss the answers to question #2 and we discuss why their behaviors are irritating to other students as well as to me. At least one student will mention others talking during class and the issue of cell phones and beepers. I am able to then present the issue as one that other students list as their biggest pet peeve. I tell them I cannot allow the behaviors. I have not had a problem with these issues in over two years since starting this exercise.

The exercise is a way to discuss classroom etiquette in a way that is less confrontational than traditional ways of discussing the issue. Students usually laugh at the things others write, so the issue is dealt with in a humorous way. It is also a way to present the issues as behaviors that affect other students versus my wanting to tell them what to do.


I also was frustrated by the lack of respect from cell phone users, and I do two things now. First, at the beginning of the semester, I tell the students that people have paid a lot of money to get three hours a week of my time. If that time is constantly interrupted by someone's cell phone, that someone will be sent to the dean (or whomever) and will be dropped from the class. Second, as for the ringing, I have in big, bold letters on the syllabus that a cell phone ringing or making any noise in my class signals a pop quiz to be taken by everyone in that class. That usually results in no more than two times being interrupted by the damn things. I started this rule this summer, and it worked. Students were reminding each other to turn off cell phones before class started.


Obscure Assistant Prof:
We're fortunate here, I guess, in that cell phones rarely go off in class. I put a statement in my syllabi stating that if a student's phone goes off, he or she will be subjected to an on-the-spot sociolinguistic analysis of the role of technology in discourse.


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