Almost every college student who attends their campus in person since the late 2000s has probably seen the dreaded words No Cellphones During Class appear on the syllabus. From a professor’s point of view, there are plenty of reasons in favor of banning cellphones. Students might be distracted; they could be using phones to cheat during assignments of quizzes, or, frankly, it could just be seen as rude to be texting someone while a professor is trying to do their job and teach the material. Students, however, might view that approach as needlessly draconian. If it’s their time and their money, why shouldn’t they be able to check something on Facebook or Twitter during class or respond to a text? It isn’t like they’re standing up and having a loud phone conversation. In their mind, the only disruptions cellphone use could have in the classroom is fabricated by people against it, and there are actually benefits to cellphones in a classroom. Phones can be used to cross-check information, bring up a calculator for quick computations, take notes, record lectures or lessons for later, take pictures of a slide or whiteboard quickly for later reference, and more. It just so happens that texting comes with it.
Cellphone use during class is ubiquitous, especially at high school age. The number of teenagers with cellphones in classrooms is climbing by the year (Graham, 2012). However, it isn’t just ownership of cellphones that’s increasing; as cellphones become more and more capable and full of possibilities for use, they become more used, too. The Pew Research Center found in 2010 that although 65% of polled teenagers (defined as 12-17 year olds) are in a school that completely bans cellphone use, 58% of those teenagers send text messages during class. 43% of all teenagers, no matter their school’s stance on cellphones, say they text in class at least once a day or more. The ramifications of this are broad and potentially enormous — students are breaking rules in favor of texting, or, if there isn’t a rule to be broken at all, they’re at least ignoring what’s going on in class to quickly fire off a text. As smartphones become more accessible and more widespread, the classroom will change as well, and perhaps not for the better. In The Atlantic, journalist Robert Earl (2012) commented that the distraction of cellphones and social media forces students to multitask — which reduces productivity and, in the end, might even reduce intellectual curiosity. He argues that if students are accustomed to digesting information in bite-sized, 140 character Tweets or short Facebook posts, it could dramatically reduce their desire or even ability to read longer-form writing and pry forth information. Here, the detriments of cellphone use are clear, not fabricated by anti-cellphone professors stuck in their ways.
Nonetheless, I’d argue that banning cellphones from the classroom is a foolhardy, worthless endeavor. Students that don’t want to pay attention in class will always find a way to slack off. Passing notes has evolved into texting, and at least texting mostly distracts just the student as opposed to neighboring students. Instead of rebuking cellphones, teachers should try to find ways to embrace cellphones in their classroom. Edward Graham of the National Education Association (2012) recommended encouraging students to use cellphones for academic purposes. Rather than make phones taboo, teachers define acceptable and unacceptable smartphone use in the classroom. Students can use apps to remind themselves of upcoming assignments or as calculators, and during set periods in classroom time, students can use their phones to look something up, but texting is prohibited. Phones already have ways to prevent incoming text messages from distracting students; putting a phone into airplane mode can prevent texts from being sent or received, and it can also be used as a “classroom mode” for a potentially distracting device.
Cellphones aren’t inherently bad for the classroom, although it’s easy to see them that way. It’s common knowledge that multitasking can reduce performance on both tasks, and a student that’s texting during class might be hearing the teacher speak without actually listening. However, bans on cellphones clearly do not work; those who want to text during class will find a way, and they may even justify it with comments on the benefits of cellphones in the classroom. For education to win the “war” against cellphones, it needs to accept them and integrate them in the classroom where possible rather than ineffectually try to act like they don’t exist.
Earl, R. (2012). Do cellphones belong in the classroom? The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/05/do-cell-phones-belong-in-the-classroom/257325/
Graham, E. (2012). Using smartphones in the classroom. National Education Association. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/tools/56274.htm
Pew Research Center. (2010). Teens and mobile phones. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2010/04/20/teens-and-mobile-phones-3/
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understand and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.