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Digital Devices Classroom Policy?

Migrated Account
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I'm interested in hearing your policy and innovative solutions to dealing with digital devices in the classroom.

I'm forever telling students to put their phones away, even though my syllabus states there are no digital devices of any kind allowed in class. I know many instructors seem fine with students bringing laptops, ipads, and phones into class and using them. However, I can't tell you how many times I've passed by someone else's class and noticed students texting or surfing around on social media while pretending to take notes. Many years ago, I also taught in a room that had a bank of computers and had to constantly waste time policing students who were surfing around Google versus writing that day's essay.

While I realize college students are supposed to be adults and some instructors just shrug it off if students are distracted with their devices versus engaging in the class, I personally find it distracting when I'm trying to work with students in a classroom. Plus, there are the obvious issues of cheating on tests and students not knowing what's going on in class if they aren't paying attention. 

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Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Not only is it distracting, it's rude. I've seen students texting away furiously while I'm in the middle of presenting (what I consider to be) important material. The latest trend is to wear earbuds during class. I have no idea if they're listening to music or they're simply leaving them in place. I often wonder how they would feel if they came to a personal conference to talk with me and I sat there and texted while they were talking. Maybe they wouldn't even bat an eye--it's their new normal. 

You're right. These are adults. They'll make their own choices. They're paying for the privilege to attend college, so they'll get as much (or as little) out of classroom instruction as they choose. Meanwhile, I'll continue to encourage them to put away their devices unless I ask them to use them for a certain pedagogical purpose like to Google something or do an interactive activity that requires a phone (Kahoot, say). But even that, I find, is merely a concession, as if I need to let them know I'm trying to stay current. 

If you can't tell by these comments, I'm with you. 

Migrated Account

Hi Tammy and Elaine,

I struggle with this as well. A policy on my syllabus ask students to not text or otherwise use electronic devices in class except for class purposes -- but we use electronic devices for class purposes a lot, so devices are out and in use, and students (some, certainly not all) use them frequently for non-class purposes. 

I recently observed a first-year writing class in which the teacher as a strict no-electronic-devices policy. She asks students to talk with her before class to make arrangements if they need to use a device for a specific purpose during class (like keeping an eye out for texts from their kids). In the class meeting I observed, students were wonderfully present: not a single electronic device was out, and every single student in the room was focused on the tasks at hand (which varied from individual work to small-group and large-group activity and discussion). I'd love my classroom to look like this -- but I imagine it requires a fair amount of policing students' device use to make that happen.

I'm interested to hear what others have to share.

Migrated Account

I'm very jealous. Part of my policy does state if students have an issue (such as an ill child, etc.) they just need to let me know before class, and I'm fine with keeping their phones out and on vibrate. But, my students still pretty much ignore the rest of the policy and are fiddling with their phones constantly. It's not unusual for them to leave in the middle of class, phone in hand, and then come back later, even though I have a 10 minutes missed and you are absent policy, which I do enforce. They just don't really care.

I may try to just "let it go" next semester and let them fiddle all they want. I find it personally very distracting, but it also sucks up too much energy from me that could be spent on more important tasks. 

Migrated Account

While I don't have a specific technology or cell phone policy, my syllabus includes a conduct policy which states that I expect students to behave ethically and professionally--or as they would/should behave in the workplace. When I introduce the policy at the beginning of the year, I ask students to list appropriate versus inappropriate behaviors. If the phone or technology thing does not come up, I bring up what I consider to be unacceptable use and why. Most students understand and are receptive. If students need to use the phone, they must quietly exit the classroom--yes, even to send a text. And yes, students leave class to text, but talking about use in the classroom use gives students stake in the discussion and a chance to demonstrate their level of understanding of ethical and appropriate classroom (and professional) behaviors.

Students who take out their phones in my class lose 5 points off the top of their grade for misconduct. The first time, I give the student an explanation of why the conduct is inappropriate (rude, distracting, dismissive--the reasons already mentioned in comments on this page). The second time, I meet with the student for a reality check. I check to see if they understand the realities of failing class if they get kicked out and have to pay to retake it. Then, I take another 5 points. Students usually say they understand why phones cause problems in class but go for a third try anyway. The third strike results in getting kicked out of class, another loss of 5 points, and lost points for any coursework or activities done in class that day. At this point, I put in an alert, and the Dean takes over. The Dean usually resolves the issue. 

I use the same concept with computers. Laptops cannot be opened until we do a related activity. This is rarely as much of an issue as cell phones. I start with, "Shut down and stow your devices. Get out your textbook, a pen, and your notebook. No worries. I'll wait to start while you get your stuff out." And then, I wait until everyone is ready. At this point in the semester, students know I mean business. I don't hesitate; I don't wait. I start the first day of class with no exceptions, once we talk policy.