Going phone-less: the first experiment

There is growing and pretty persuasive evidence that cell phones are toxic to learning, consistent with common sense and experience. So how to get phones out of the classroom (or at least into airplane mode?). Laptop bans are easy. Phone bans not so.

At the end of last year, I discussed with the class what it would take for them to part with their phones. They said 1% extra credit. I discussed it with this years class Tuesday and there were no objections so today we tried it. The mechanics of that: students put their name on a form we provided and then they put that and their silenced phones into a plastic bag we provided, and then they gave the whole package to the TAs.

This is what it looks like when 300 students try to do that.

this is one of the three lines that developed

This is one of the three lines that developed

The view from the back

The view from the back

And this is what 300+ bagged phones looks like.


During class, one phone fell to the floor (drawing a stunned reaction from the students – more striking than any reaction to what I say)…but we lost no phones, broke none, and so far as I know, swapped none.

So it can be done. But it took 7 minutes into class time before it was all in hand, and I cut class short at the end to make sure the returns worked ok. Sadly, that meant I skipped a pop quiz which would have given me hard data on what proportion of the class surrendered their phones. It looked to me like everyone did. And pedagogically? My sense was that the class was paying more attention to what I was saying today. But maybe they were suffering separation anxiety.

The return process…well that was so chaotic, and I was so scared a phone would be crushed or dropped that I completely forgot to take photo of it all…. And was that fear I saw in the eyes of the TAs supervising the process?

Conclusion: not obviously the way to go. I have yet to think of a better way. But this way sure made the classroom social for a while. And I learned that 300 students milling around is a much bigger scene than 300 students sitting down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *