I am experimenting with forbidding the students to use mobile phones during seminars. If there is something to look up and we do it together, sure, it can be used. If there is an emergency, one may exit the room to call or text or whatever. But while seated and working, I want to have the students engaged with the class and not with their phones.
And isn’t this creating conflicts? Oh, it is. Then why do I do it? Now, here’s why!
- Train focused work: If one can’t pay attention to what is going on for more than 10 minutes, one might find themselves in big professional trouble. How can one work when one can’t stay engaged for longer with the work you’re doing? So, I’m using the No phone policy in order to train people to stay off the phone for at least 50 minutes;
- Train active listening: I’v noticed the need to develop abilities of public speaking. Part of this is listening to what the colleagues are saying. This not only encourages the person staying in front of the room to be more confident expressing their ideas, but it can provide opportunities for finding people with similar world views or for stimulating discussions. Also, peer learning is enhanced when peers are actually listening to each other;
- Use the time together for actual learning: I don’t know how much students read at home. Some have to go to work to support themselves though faculty. Some invest time in hobbies and spending time with friends, which are both very important. For this reason, I want to use the two hours we have to actually learn and clarify as much as we can. When one spends time on the phone, one misses out on the clarifications and then will have to study alone for the exam;
- Avoid constant distractions: A couple of years before, I had no rule concerning phones. I wanted to see what happens. And some people were constantly on their phones. They were staying in the back, thinking I can’t see them or that they are not distracting [It’s super funny to see this play out: the phone is kept hidden before a chair, a colleague or a bag and minutes after minutes go by and the person is glancing constantly down. It’s so clear they are paying attention to something else ’cause who stares like that?]. The problem turn out to be that eventually they were asking questions about the already discussed topics and during clarifications, those who paid attention were getting bored or annoyed. To avoid this, isn’t it better to set up a non-negotiable No-phone rule.
- Teach a lesson about respect: I strongly believe that when two people interact, the usage of the phone is allowed when it serves the conversation and both are watching. I consider using the phone when another is talking to you or for your benefit as a lack of respect. [Total lack of respect, in fact]. In class, it plays out like this: I am standing there, in front of the class, explaining something. This means (1) I am focusing on what I have to say while (2) I watch the students’ expressions to check if they understand it. And then, there she/he is, texting frenetically. Message sent: “I don’t care of what you have to say.” or “Something else is more important!” There is no way someone can explain this behavior to me in order to make me consider I am wrong. If you have a family emergency, be with your family. You need to call or text someone, go out of the room and do that. You are stressed out for receiving some information? What will you do after you receive the information? Will you continue to stay in class? In this case, just control yourself and check it after the class is over, as there will be no change in your behavior. Stop turning a non-emergency into an emergency, it’s not healthy.
Now, I am not saying my way is the best way. But I really spent time considering what my Phone usage policy should be and I am trying to make the best decision in order to have class participation and ensure students leave the room with having learned something.
I need to say though, that this rule serves me well. There are usually 1-2 students who don’t play by this rule, but the majority is very much involved. We have stimulating conversations in class and I am observing how the learning process unfolds. Really looking forward to Wednesdays and Thursdays this semester!
I am also not saying that I am not guilty of this myself. I do find myself curious of something and pick up my phone to find what I am interested in in inappropriate moments. I also do make efforts to correct it and learned that the best way to do it is to turn on notifications, turn off sounds and to put it away. This led my closest friends to accuse me of using my mobile phone as a regular phone. Well, not always, I do have days when I spend more time than I wish to admit with my phone in my hands. This is why I know how dangerous it is.
So, let’s try this together: Use your phone less and make today count.