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Smartphones in the classroom: The need for campuswide policies

Campuswide policies developed to restrict students' from using smartphones during class time for personal use will buttress professors' individual policies.
University Business, June 2015

Today's students are easily distracted in the classroom because of their need for stimulation. This need developed at an exponential rate during their formative years due to the accelerated growth of new technologies. Students use smartphones, smartwatches, computers, tablets, and so forth to stay connected to their world. This need to stay connected does not stop at the classroom door. Students remain in touch with their world using smartphones during class time texting, visiting social sites, and surfing the Web. Contact may also occur during examinations. This behavior is distracting to students and professors.

Human beings cannot multitask. They are in fact switching tasks, not multitasking. Some students to switch activities such as, texting, listening to music, and visiting social sites during class time. Students think they can pay attention in class and use their smartphones at the same time. Research has shown that they cannot do so and earn lower grades.

Recently full-time and part-time professors at a mid-sized public university in New England were surveyed to determine (a) their experiences with students using smartphones during class time for personal use; (b) their policies regarding students' use of smartphones during class time; and (c) if the University should develop a campus-wide policy restricting students from using their phones for personal use during class.

The majority of professors stated that students used smartphones for personal use during class time to text, email, and visit social sites. The majority professors stated students received their policies regarding the use of smartphones in the classroom during class time verbally and in writing. Professors provided descriptions of their individual policies. These policies varied greatly. This may be one reason why students ignore the professors' policies and continue to use their phones during class time. Students hide their phones under papers or books and continue to use them disregarding professors' policies. Professors then waste valuable class time trying to enforce their smartphone policies. Professors stated a campus-wide policy regarding students' use of smartphones during class time would enhance the learning experience.

On the other hand, many professors argue that campus-wide policies restricting smartphone use in the classroom will stifle, not enhance learning. For example, professors encourage students to use their handheld computers to (a) look up relevant information to supplement lectures; (b) find up-to-date information regarding case studies; (c) take pictures of notes on the board in order to pay attention to lectures rather than trying to copying everything; and (d) use their phones as calculators. In addition, professors argue that students need to have their phones on during classes for emergency purposes.

An effective campus-wide policy would provide uniform rules and penalties for students using their phones for personal use, not educational purposes. For example, many professors' course evaluations include a percentage for class participation. A student may be physically present, but if he or she is using a smartphone for personal use, he or she is not mentally present to participate.

Many professors are opposed to campus-wide restrictions regarding classroom activities. Consequently, any campus-wide policy should be voluntary. Nevertheless, professors struggling with the issue of students using smartphones for purposes other than learning during class time will have support from the college or university. Professors can incorporate the campus-wide policy their syllabi along with their personal policies.

Professors' recommendation for a campus-wide policy regarding students' use of smartphones during class time for personal use is important. A campus-wide policy shows students that the school takes the use of smartphones during class time for personal use seriously and gives strength to the professors' individual policies.

C. Kevin Synott is a professor in the Department of Business Administration at Eastern Connecticut State University.

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