How do you handle texting in class?

27 11 2010

Inspired by the guy from Syracuse mentioned here who walked out of his giant philosophy class, SEK offers a rather intense post on the subject at Lawyers, Guns and Money. I bookmarked it yesterday so that I could get back to the comments today, and they did not disappoint.

There seems to be two schools of thought on this. #1:

Could we go back to square zero and clearly state why texting in class is bad? If someone decides not to pay attention, I’d rather he or she spends class inconspicuously texting as opposed to passing notes, whispering, etc. Having a no texting policy during exams I get – you want to discourage cheating. However, trying to ban texting during regular lectures doesn’t seem to serve any purpose other than punishing students for not paying attention (which, in theory, a bad grade/lack of knowledge is supposed to do anyway).


I find that the classroom dynamic matters in ways I never really thought it would before I became a teacher. A few students deliberatively not paying attention or respecting what the rest of us are trying to do can change the energy and atmosphere of a classroom in a way that’s not conducive to the goals of the classroom. It’s harder to get a good discussion going, other students get annoyed or follow suit and pay less attention, etc. Furthermore, I tend to do a better job when there aren’t disengaged students ignoring me. THat’s not deliberate, I try to do as well as I can regardless, but there’s no denying I’m more successful when I’m not being ignored by a portion of the students.

I’m definitely in the #2 camp here because it really does bother me. For the last few semesters I’ve started giving a five minute speech on the first day of class explaining how much it bothers me, along with the rather obvious point that my survey classes (40 people tops) are small enough that I can see you do it. That last part always gets a laugh, which tells me that most people don’t quite realize it. I used to think I’d be in the kick ’em out of the room camp, but I now realize that I don’t have it in me.

My other anti-texting strategy wasn’t supposed to be an anti-texting strategy, but I’m convinced it helps. As I’ve written before, I’ve made a great effort to reorganize my survey lectures so that I’m doing far less reading. While I would do this for pedagogical reasons alone, I’m convinced that by actually looking at the people I’m talking to their fingers are much less likely to stray to their phones (based on the “I can see you” principle mentioned above).

Yes, I can still see a few people with their hands churning away far underneath the table every once in a while, but it bothers me far less when it’s done in a way that is less disruptive and at least lets me know that they know it’s wrong. And by the way, this never happens in my upper-level classes (who are generally motivated and obviously deterred by the very small class size) – just the surveys with people who don’t want to be there.

How do you handle texting in class? Got any other good ideas?




One response

27 11 2010

I’m with you, Jonathan, and with option #2. Classroom atmosphere is important, so I don’t allow it. I emphasize that it’s disruptive, etc. on the first day of class and on the syllabus, and if I see it happening (as I do on occasion) I stop lecturing or talking and focus my attention on the transgressor, who usually figures it out quickly and puts the phone away sheepishly.

I have to say, though, that the vast majority of my students respect my rules and comply, especially when I explain that it’s really about the community we’re creating in the classroom, and how we need to have a respectful atmosphere in which we can talk about difficult or even painful ideas or events. I think the students kind of dig it, because I don’t think there are a lot of classes in which they get to talk or contribute much.

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