By Laura LaVacca
Editor’s Note: Part I of this two-part series ran in last month’s issue of Campus News. You don’t need to have read it to enjoy this piece, but you can find it anyway here.
In an attempt to make sense of the new presence of cell phones in the college classroom, information scientist, Dr. Rita Langdon, Dean of the School of Professional Studies at Long Island University, conducted a study on Digital Natives (college students) and Digital Immigrants (college faculty) and their views on device usage in academic settings.
Dr. Langdon defines digital natives as the generation of young people who are native speakers of the language of technology, including video games, computers and the Internet. Digital immigrants are those who were not born into the digital world, but use it daily. The study was entitled: “Is There a Digital Divide in Higher Education? An Exploratory Study of Student and Faculty Views Toward Mobile Devices in College Classrooms” and involved a focus group with undergraduate college students. Dr. Langdon also analyzed 100 syllabi from faculty who teach undergraduate courses at 32 New York state colleges and universities. National research was also consulted.
Her results found that faculty largely prohibited cell phone usage and there were policies in place to forbid such.
Jonathan Lopes, adjunct at Northampton Community College, Lehigh Valley, Penn., is one such professor who forbids it in his classroom: “Regardless if I am a speaker in a workshop or I am teaching a course, I have a zero tolerance policy with any electronics.”
He feels that establishing the “policy” immediately reinforces credibility and allows the focus to be on the lesson.
“Reforming habits take time, personal or academic. If parents do not want their kids overusing the phone, take it away. If professors or staff feel the same, tell them to put it away. If you’re a student and know your habits, actually shut it off for that lecture. It is simple.”
The study also found that students wished for permission to use their devices, but acknowledged that they also can be distracted.
“I don’t think cell phone use should be forbidden. At this age, it’s tough to enforce strict rules as students are older, especially since we are paying to take these classes. It’s up to the student how they want to treat the classes and for the educator to dictate how they do so could result in a potentially negative relationship,” Nassau Community College student Bryan Miller offers.
But the logic seems flawed. Why pay tuition bills of upwards of $30,000 at some universities, just to use the in-class time to browse on the phone?
The study also found that professional literature encouraged faculty to begin to embrace mobile technology in the classroom as an educational tool and to obtain training for effectiveness. This does not come without its problems, however.
“The challenge is if the technology is being used for ‘good’ or not,” Joseph Croskey, Ph.D., Director, University Advising Services Center at Clarion University of Pennsylvania explains. “I personally think that phones should be allowed in the classroom. It is up to our faculty to design courses that engage students more than the addictive apps on their cellphone. This is, of course, a tough challenge. There is also the responsibility that students have to feel that ‘college’ and college classes are worth the investment in time. Worth more than the latest TikTok video. “
The problem seems to be multi-faceted. Some students feel entitled to spend their time as they see fit while professors struggle to understand students’ thought processes and may label the behavior in class as “disrespectful.”
Professors who try to include technology in some lessons then worry students will take it too far, surfing websites willy nilly or using the activity time to text.
Nassau Community College Professor Matthew Posillico is careful to acknowledge such in the syllabus for his, normally, no-cell phone classroom, “Occasionally, an exception will be made when permission to use your cell phone in the classroom will be given to expedite a particular class exercise, but this allowance should not be perceived as a permanent relaxation of the rules.”
“We know there is a psychological readiness among college students to use mobile devices in the classroom because they are comfortable with the technology and are fervent users in other areas of their lives,” Dr. Langdon articulates. “While many students say they would welcome permission from their professors to use their devices freely in the classroom, they also recognize how easily they can become distracted and tempted to use their phones and laptops for non-classroom related activities.”
Dr. Croskey brings it back to an attention issue. “Another part of the issue is attention training. Students need to be taught to train their attention.
Mindfulness meditation practices are useful for training attention. Once students train their attention, it is possible that they will be less likely to pull out their phones when they feel the urge.”
This practice of remaining in the moment can help students be more active in class lessons.
“They can begin to realize that the distraction in class caused by looking at the phone is not worth the pain of missing information that could appear later in the course, on a test, etc.”
Students can also hone in on what helps them stay engaged and motivated. Perhaps taking notes is the answer or jotting down questions to be asked after class.
“If bored, participate more often. And ‘boring’ is subjective. Our job is to educate you, that class will not always be fun,” Professor Jonathan Lopes asserts.
“Fun can sometimes lessen the quality of the topic at hand. I am a millennial, therefore fully am aware of the perceived necessity to students and how common it is used as a distraction from academic boredom. If notes are that important, then bring a notebook…”
NCC sophomore Miller does acknowledge his cell phone use in the classroom and thinks that moving toward less stringent policies would be better for students. “Maybe if there’s a way to implement phones within class games or groups and message boards and that kind of stuff to help the kid that doesn’t necessarily retain much from the standard lecture style, [he/she] would become more engaged.”
Regardless of which side of the argument you are on, Dr. Langdon explains the importance of faculty support:
“The literature says that faculty need to get on the same wavelength as their students, who are leading mobile, digital lives, but it does not consider that the faculty may already be on board but need to receive the training, support, confidence and infrastructure to accomplish the new digital reality.
Professional development for faculty on mobile devices as learning devices is necessary to move forward.”
She continues noting the need of a curriculum for faculty that would assist in how to handle “unwanted side effects of distraction, temptation and addiction.”
After all, teachers are up there trying their best. They did prepare a lesson on their own outside of the classroom. Maybe students need to look at it from the professor’s perspective, and professors need to look at it from the student’s.
A little compromise on both sides would begin to solve the problem…