Text Messaging in Class

As a professor, I'm not ROTFL about cell phones in class

A colleague and I were having a discussion today about cell phone use in class, especially during student presentations. We were of the same mindset that it’s especially rude to be texting while a peer is doing a presentation for a grade. It’s tough enough to be standing up in front of a room full of peers; it’s doubly or triply tough to do it when your peers are (apparently) more interested in a tiny electronic device in their hands than whoever is baring his/her heart and soul by doing a presentation. A great majority of student speakers I have worked with would prefer eye contact and other forms of engagement to the appearance of boredom by the audience. Wouldn’t you?

NOTE: I do have a different view of tweeting in class, if the students are distilling the presentation and sharing soundbites in 140-character segments so that others can also benefit from the presentation. At times, I even encourage tweeting in class.

This reminded me of a blog post I wrote on my Becoming Learner Centered blog a while back. Below is a cross-post of what I wrote in 2008. The sentiment remains the same here in 2010.

Like many educators, I have a short statement in my syllabi stating that I do not want my students to be spending time in class text messaging or surfing the web. But many of my students probably believe this is just because I want them focused on me instead of elsewhere. And that’s partially true.

Why don’t I want them doing other things in class? Read this syllabus excerpt by Professor Cara A. Finnegan. (Cara gave me permission to reproduce her article from her First Efforts blog.)

Technology and the Problem of Divided Attention

In recent years the saturation of cell phones, text messaging, and laptops, combined with the broad availability of wireless in classrooms, has produced something I call the problem of divided attention. A March 25, 2007, article in the New York Times summarized recent studies of productivity in business settings. Researchers found that after responding to email or text messages, it took people more than 15 minutes to re- focus on the “serious mental tasks” they had been performing before the interruption. Other research has shown that when people attempt to perform two tasks at once (e.g., following what’s happening in class while checking text messages), the brain literally cannot do it. The brain has got to give up on one of the tasks in order to effectively accomplish the other. Hidden behind all the hype about multi-tasking, then, is this sad truth: it makes you slower and dumber. For this reason alone you should seek to avoid the problem of divided attention when you are in class. But there’s another reason, too: technology often causes us to lose our senses when it comes to norms of polite behavior and, as a result, perfectly lovely people become unbelievably rude.

For both these reasons, then, turn off your cellphones or set them on silent mode when you come to class; it is rude for our activities to be interrupted by a ringing cellphone. Similarly, text messaging will not be tolerated in class; any student found to be sending or checking text messages during class will be invited (quite publicly) to make a choice either to cease the texting or leave the classroom. You are welcome to bring your laptop to class and use it to take notes, access readings we’re discussing, and the like. You are not welcome to surf the web, check email, or otherwise perform non-class-related activities during class. Here’s my best advice: If you aren’t using it to perform a task specifically related to what we are doing in class at that very moment, put it away.

Thanks, Cara, for explaining why texting in class is not a good idea.

Photo Credit: “Spink!” was originally uploaded to Flickr by apples for lylah

So, what are your thoughts about students texting while other students are giving presentations in class?


15 Responses to Don’t Text in Class . . . And Here’s Why

  1. Kathleen says:

    I’m an older student and I have to say, this is one thing that really drives me up the wall. I find the texting/constant scrolling of others around me very distracting. Unless I have to, I don’t bring my phone in (it stays in my car) If not, it is never, ever on my desk. If I was expecting urgent news, I would inform the professor prior to class that I might be notified and would have my phone out. Students are being controlled by their devices, they are owned by them. Some people don’t listen b/c they’re too busy texting or scrolling through social media or websites, email, etc. It’s disgusting, imo. I know these addicted students won’t make the grades I’m making, but regardless, it is simply not something that should be allowed – not during presentations and not during classtime, period.

  2. Holly says:

    My standpoint on the cell phone is class issue is that it is just plain rude. I don’t think it should be allowed. I’m a college student and am writing an essay on this same issue. Half of my English class is constantly on their cell phones and its not so much a distraction but it is certainly rude. Who wants to teach a class room who is constantly distracted? I have straight A’s and I can bet you the students on their cell phones constantly don’t. its their grade not mine!

  3. Megan says:

    My class, Platform Magazine, discussed this the other day, what exactly are the Dos and Don’ts of cell phone usage.
    Several members writers for the magazine have attended PR related conferences where they encourage tweeting about speakers and workshops. Haven’t we been taught though, that it’s rude to use your cell phone when people are talking to you? Not only that but when you’re in a professional settling surrounded by professionals and potential employers how can you pull out your cell phone without fear of being judge. There is no way to distinguish between who is tweeting, checking email or texting their friends so everyone should use caution when pulling out their phone.

    Megan Cotton
    Platform Writer

  4. Jen Cicotta says:

    Maybe I shouldn’t be commenting on this post because I am a student in your class, but here we go. Personally, I have never really been bothered by a student texting while I give a presentation. I guess the reason for that is because I know that just because they are texting doesn’t mean they are listening. In today’s society, students are learning how to do multiple things at once and texting is becoming second nature. I can actually have a face to face conversation with someone while texting someone else at the same time. That being said I definitely see how a student texting during class can give the appearance of uninterest and therfore be rude which is why I usually try and not text during class.

    • Drew says:

      True, kids (15 year old here) are learning to do more than one things at a time. But studies have shown that kids who do multitask don’t get as much out of it, and tend to learn more when they focus one thing rather than two or more.

  5. […] excited to find that she had received recognition from Ragan’s PR Daily! Her blog, called Public Relations Matters, shares her thoughts on texting in class versus tweeting in class and related etiquette during […]

  6. Samra says:

    My classes are a strict “no-gadget” zone and I’ve confiscated smart phones that were being used for Facebooking, etc. during a lecture. I also make a mental note to remember what I was talking about at that time and make sure it’s on the test. Cures them pretty quickly. The lab classes are more difficult because I can’t see all the computer screens, but I can usually tell when they’re working on class stuff and when they’re not. Tweeting during class has not been a problem–and I teach social media! They tweet their editorial comments or jokes after class.

    I know a professor at another school who holds cell phones during tests–when they turn their test in, they get their phone back. Keeps them from texting answers to other classmates.

  7. Kevin says:

    I’m not sure I understand the distinction you’re making between tweeting and texting. As an instructor, whenever I see a phone in hand it doesn’t matter what they’re actually doing, because it signals their lack of focus on whatever is happening in class. I see how you’re placing tweeting withing the realm of potentially paying attention, but as an Instructor i don’t have any way to tell if they are tweeting something relevant, something irrelevant or just texting a friend.

    • Hi Kevin. I understand your dilemma. My students know that if they’re tweeting in class, they need to use the designated class hashtag (like #COMM4333). I occasionally do a search during class. If there are no or few tweets with the designated hashtag but lots of phones have been out, we stop & have a discussion about courtesy. This tends to work for me, especially in my smaller classes.

  8. Allie says:

    As a student, I don’t agree with texting during class. If I am texting during class, than I am not paying attention to what I am supposed to be learning. I am not a big “tweeter” either so I would not be on my phone tweeting during a classmates presentation. I find it extremely rude when classmates are on their phone during fellow classmate’s presentations or speeches and out of respect for them, I do not do so. When I took public speaking last semester I found it very easy to fall off track if I saw someone toying with their phone while I was trying to speak. I’ve found it is best for everyone to turn your phone off during class time.

  9. Delaney Kirk says:

    I give my students an assignment that requires them to listen to the presentations. An example might be to develop 5 multiple choice questions on the topic. I tell them I will pick the best ones and put on the final exam. They don’t have time to text and like the idea of “knowing” some of the test questions.

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  11. Amanda says:

    Oh the texting in class thing… Here’s my thing! I attended a business meeting as part of a class. During the hour long meeting, every single person (apart from my fellow students who were threatened with severe punishment if they even though about it!) used or checked their cellular devices at least once. Is one saying that while I’m in class, nothing in my life can be important enough to check on, but in the business “adult” world, their lives are constantly moving moving moving?? It is rude to check a phone while another is talking- but monkey see monkey do. Maybe I want to run a business someday. I was taught that not paying attention is okay, so why not start now?