Stealth texting or crotch texting in class. What a nightmare.

I can’t make up my mind about permitting mobile devices and other technology in class. Even though I geek out over the latest tech toys, my class policy alternates every semester. Lately, my approach has been NO DEVICES whatsoever (without a disability services accommodation letter). This works best when students hear a thorough explanation and rationale. Unfortunately, last year I decided to “flip” some classes, creating situations where students need tech for activities, and causing a quandary. So, here’s my general NO TECHNOLOGY approach:

Students get upset when it comes to outlawing technology in the class. Usually, providing a rationale other than “because I said so” creates a positive culture, and makes students accountable to each other, regardless of the issue or policy at hand. This goes a long way to prevent sneaky Tweeting. Here are the specifics

1. Open with: “In the past, cellphones and laptops weren’t a problem. If a student wanted to pay for school and not get what she paid for, that’s her business. But we’ve reached a critical mass where the technology is disruptive. You can’t do group work or listen to a lecture when your group members or neighbors are playing or texting. If you want to cheat yourself out of your education, whatever, but I can’t let you cheat your classmates out of their education.”

2. Explain to them that they need to stow their tech even if it is turned off. Leaving it out on the desk or in their lap puts the teacher in the position of policing them. If you can’t see whether or not it’s turned on, you have to assume that it is on and come by and check.

3. Since I provide notes and an mp3 recording of the lecture, they don’t need devices.

4. Remind them the first couple of weeks to stow their toys as soon as class starts. Set the tone and pattern.

5. After that, when I walk the rows as I lecture, if I see someone with something out, I just have to touch them lightly on the shoulder, or point to whatever, and they put it away. For most of them, it just takes once or twice.

6. If a student continues to violate the rule, private conversations work. I let them know that I’m disappointed, that performance affects their peers, and that I appreciate their participation, but it works better if they are fully present. Their tech interferes with this.

7. Only after a student is consistently and intentionally sneaky about using tech (typically a cellphone) will I call them out in class. At that point, when I do call them out, I cite their accountability to their classmates, reminding them of what I said in the beginning of class – no one cares what you do to yourself, but you cheating other people out of their learning experience is unacceptable.

It is never a good thing to shame a student. In my opinion, commenting on a student who consistently texts is not shaming. I have given the student every opportunity to behave correctly, and I am calling him or her into account for violating a class norm and dismissing their peers’ interests. I make it clear that it is not about me and my authority – which it isn’t – it is about our community. I think that is a mistake that many instructors make because they turn it into a power battle rather than a community relationship.

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