Here is another good piece by Rick Diguette, a writer who teaches English at a local college.
By Rick Diguette
My students learn on the first day of each semester that their cell phones must be turned off when class begins and remain off until class ends. There are negative consequences if they fail to abide by this rule. One is that they lose points toward their final grade; this normally gets their attention.
Show me a student who isn’t obsessed with his or her grades and you just might be dealing with a visitor from a galaxy far, far away.
Since day one my cell phone rule has received its fair share of criticism, and not only from students. Some colleagues consider it Draconian at best, Neolithic at worst. I’ve been reminded that this is the 21st century, while also being counseled to develop a sense of humor, locate a good shrink, and/or get out of the teaching profession.
If you thought the halls of English departments always echo with the sound of melodious harps, I have news for you. Otherwise well-mannered people who quote Shakespeare and William Butler Yeats can be witheringly opinionated.
I wasn’t always hard-nosed about cell phones. Once upon a time I accepted the fact that some students would rather be texting than listening to me. But it also seemed reasonable to believe that inveterate texters were capable of learning despite sending and receiving text messages all the time. Then I had a change of heart.
With each passing semester it seemed to me that more and more students were helpless to ignore their cell phones for even a few seconds at a time. That’s when I decided that my laissez-faire attitude might be contributing to another negative consequence. I was enabling behavior that had the potential to impede learning.
So what if serial texting impedes learning? If students would rather do that than almost anything else, why not let them? If their grades suffer as a result, maybe they will change their ways. After all, learning how to prioritize is an invaluable lesson they will have to learn sooner or later. And who said the onus is on me to make sure that everyone actually learns something? There’s at least one problem with this line of reasoning.
Whether we are willing to admit this or not our peers exert an inordinate amount of influence on us, especially when we are young and highly image conscious. We are also imitative creatures by nature.
In the classroom this can result in a synergy, the effect of which is that students who are interested in learning may come to believe that since everyone else is texting they might as well be doing the same. Pretty soon, or so it seems to me, no one is learning anything.
My duty as a teacher extends to every student in every one of my classes —to those who can learn under almost any conditions, no matter how distracting, as well as to those who can not. And although attending college is a matter of choice, all students should have the opportunity to learn something even if they think the act of sending and receiving text messages ranks right up there in the scale of importance with birth, death, and beer pong.
I know I can’t force anyone to learn, but I can structure the classroom environment to facilitate learning. That is what my cell phone rule, Neolithic though it may be, is designed to accomplish.
As for those students who would rather be texting, they must be content to give their opposable thumbs a well earned rest.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog