Texting in Class: Survey Findings and Recommendations
There was recently a case at the University of Toronto where in a first year physics class, a professor was distracted/frustrated/angered/hurt/annoyed by students meowing in his class. This situation is one of many examples of what happens when class sizes get too large, and students feel they are part of a system, not a person.
Deborah Tindell and Robert Bohlander, Wilkes University psychology professors, surveyed 269 students anonymously about students texting in class. They found that:
- 95 percent of students bring their phones to class every day.
- 91 percent have used their phones to text message during class time.
- Almost half of respondents said it was easy to text in class without instructors being aware.
- 99 percent said they should be permitted to retain their cell phones while in class.
- 62 percent said they should be allowed to text in class as long as they don’t disturb their classmates. (About a quarter of the students stated that texting creates a distraction to those sitting nearby.)
- 10 percent said that they have sent or received text messages during exams, and 3 percent admitted to transmitting exam information during a test.
None of this surprised me. I graduated with my undergraduate degree in 2007 from a very small liberal arts university in New Brunswick. I don’t want to say I was there ‘pre’ phone, because that’s a bit ridiculous – we all had cell phones, but at the same time very, very few of us had smart phones. I don’t know if it was the vibe on campus, but in addition until my last year of school most of us didn’t bring laptops to class either. This may have been because of small class sizes – in a class of 3-15 you notice when one person isn’t paying attention, or is texting – but for whatever reason, we actually paid attention to the professor.
The authors offered the following suggestions based on feedback:
- Have a clear, written policy about cell phone use and enforce it consistently. State that phones must be out of sight and turned off during class. Make penalties clear, such as losing points or dropping a letter grade for unauthorized cell phone use. Penalties can be applied to attendance or participation credit by assuming that if a student is texting in class, they are not “present.”
- Classroom design is an important component in curtailing cell phone use. The smaller and more intimate the classroom setting, the more difficult it is to text, students say. Desks that do not permit hidden cell phone use are helpful as well. If the classroom contains columns or other visual obstructions, instructors may want to prevent students from sitting in seats that are obscured from the instructor’s view.
- Instructors should circulate around the classroom, and spend some time in the back of the classroom. Teachers should avoid focusing their attention on the blackboard, lecture notes, or on projected images at the front of the room, and instead pay attention to the activities of the students, making frequent eye contact. Survey respondents indicated that it is easier to text in class when the instructor is not paying attention to the students in the class.
I think the recommendations are vital but it’s also an important discussion on classroom politics in general. In my undergrad we paid attention because the profs knew our names, and would call us out and ask us questions. But again, by my fourth year my class sizes averaged 10 people- when you’re working with a classroom size of potentially 600+ students that just isn’t feasible. The largest classroom size possible at my undergrad was 150 students, and that only happened for first year classes. How do you inspire students to care about the work, and respect you when they feel that you don’t/can’t care about them being there?