I haven't been in a classroom since December 2011. Following the Fall 2011 semester, I enjoyed sabbatical leave. I return to the classroom in September. I'm looking forward to teaching again. I'm not looking forward to cell phones. For an excellent discussion about cell phones and texting in class, I recommend this piece by Nathan Palmer. I agree with Nathan's comment that "you can stop cell phone use, but the costs aren't justified by the rewards." I totally agree with Nathan that I don't want to use up my goodwill by policing students' cell phone use. I ultimately view the War on Cell Phones as a war that can't be won.
For many years I've included a perfunctory statement in my syllabi asking students to not use cell phones during class time. Students respond to the policy by "politely" using their phones underneath their desks, as if I can't see them. Sometimes I ask students to put their phones away, other times I don't have the energy to do it. There's so much cell phone use, I can't stamp it all out. My colleagues generally admit they are also at a loss for what to do, although a few will boast that no student would dare use a cell phone in their class. Maybe it's true; maybe a few people have squashed all cell phone use, but I have a hard time believing that it came with no cost to their relationships with students.
So what am I going to do in the Fall semester? Instead of writing a lame statement prohibiting cell phones, on the first day of class I'm going to ask students to develop a policy about the use of cell phones. I'm going to ask them what they think a reasonable and fair policy should be. I plan to do this in each of my classes. Keep in mind that professors aren't the only ones who dislike Texting While Learning. Students do not uniformly support the use of cell phones in class. Some of my students have complained to me about the use of cell phones in class. Some students find the use of cell phones as distracting as I do. Considering that students bring a range of viewpoints to this subject (as with any subject), it will be interesting to see how it plays out. What do you think of the idea of including students in the development of a policy on cell phone use?
How will this work? I'm not a power-hungry authoritarian type, but I'll have veto power when students design the policy. So if all they come up with is "Cell phones can be used at all times, for any purpose whatsoever," I'll be forced to block it. But I can safely predict that students will design a nuanced proposal. As I work with students to make policy, I'll have them consider several key questions: (1) For what purposes are cell phones appropriate? (2) Should cell phones be used for Twitter, assuming that tweets involve class-related content? (3) What limits should exist on cell phone use? (4) What is a proper way to ask a student to stop using their cell phone? (5) Is it only the professor who should ask a student to stop using their cell phone? (6) What, if any, consequence should there be for a student who ruthlessly and rudely uses a cell phone throughout class?
Assuming that students work together with me to form a sensible plan, it will become the official policy for the semester. It might take a long time to work out the details (possibly even the entire first session), but I think it's a valuable use of time.
In all, I want this to be an exercise in thinking about the use of cell phones during class time. I hope students will care more about cell phone use after having a hand in shaping the policy. However it works out, students will discover on day one that I value their input and encourage their participation in class.