Those damn phones

Just finished a very interesting lunch with 14 faculty from the STEM Gen Ed discussion group. We meet every month or two for therapy and to exchange good practice. Today’s topic was the problem of cell phones in  the classroom. There is very strong evidence that phones are toxic to learning in a classroom setting (main mechanism: distraction). Today’s discussion was about getting students to pay attention to the class, not their phones.


  1. Do nothing. It our responsibility to help students learn. But do we have to try to change damaging personal behavior when it is self inflicted?
  2. Outright ban. Hard to enforce.
  3. Try to persuade. Show them the data. I tried this in 2015 and again this year, with no noticeable impact.
  4.  Designated smoking section (an area of the classroom students can opt into with electronics). This works for Julia but half the class opts for the electronics section, so the problem is at best halved.
  5. Collect phones for extra credit. This is what I tried. Quite a performance, and some loss of class time, but my impression is that there has been less use of phones in the class since we tried it (anecdotal observation). Perhaps that one time showed the students the learning impact? Julia suggested instead that it must have forcefully shown the students how much I care. It is sweet she thinks the students care when I care….
  6. Swap phones for extra credit.  Students swap phones with each other and sign that they were not used for the class. Julia’s idea, completely new (so no data). Worries about cheating?
  7. Software solutions. Bill Goffe points us to flippdapp. Looks interesting.
  8. Hardware solutions. Via Alicia Keys, Bill pointed us to overyonder. Quite pricey.

My take on all this is that we can implement #5 better, and I might yet try that, but before then, I’d like to experiment with #6 and #7. Next class, I’ll talk to the students and see what they think.

The white board from today's discussion... phones are good for photos -- even in airplane mode.

The white board from today’s faculty discussion… phones are good for photos — even in airplane mode.

In the middle of our discussion about all this, my phone rang (is it just me that thinks the iPhone sound-off button sucks?). Our whole discussion ground to a distracting halt…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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