Cell Phones in the Classroom

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I just finished reading Traci Gardner’s post on cell phone use in the classroom. I think she’s spot on when she suggests that “the acceptable range of behavior in the classroom is changing, and we need to find positive ways to take advantage of that shift.” I always had a “cell phones off” policy in my classes until about two years ago. One of the students in class pulled out her phone and I chided her. But then she told me she was adding the assignment I had just given to her calendar. As much of a techie as I am, that was the first time it hit me: phones are increasingly powerful and connected mobile computing platforms, and sometimes my students are using them in legitimate ways. I’ve run across other instances: a grad student checking his e-mail to get my comments on an assignment; students in group work using the Web through their phones to locate information and look up terms; even students e-mailing me from their phones to remind me of the appointment I made with them in class (and would have forgotten had it not gotten into my own schedule somehow). I’ve since changed my policy on cell phones in the classroom. It now reads:

Use portable technologies responsibly or not at all.

I explain to students what responsible use means. It doesn’t mean using such technologies for class purposes only. It also means that if you have a call you need to take, you step outside the classroom to take it. I don’t assume my class is more important than their lives, but I do think they need to learn a certain set of “adult skills” or general social skills that will serve them later in life. If they can step out of my class to take a call, then some day they’ll know to step out of that meeting at work to take a call, too. Of course, I still have students texting or on Facebook on their laptops. That’s okay. I’ve come to believe that the writing classroom is a self-punishing system. I don’t have to penalize them for using that technology; the fact that they’re not engaged in the work of the class will be reflected in what they hand in and this will be reflected in their grades. I will say, though, that my assistant Mike has taken this a step further. He actually uses Twitter (brilliantly) in his class. But I think that deserves a whole separate post.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.