Students distracted by digital devices in classroom

Using cell phones and other electronic devices can be distracting to other students (Photo by Justin Pawlowski).

An increasingly debated issue on college campuses is that of students using their devices in the classroom.

Devices such as cellphones, tablets, and laptops can be used to benefit the student, but often this is not the case.

According to Anya Kamenetz, writing on NPR.org, typical college-age students use their cell phones from eight to 10 hours a day. They check their phones at least once every 15-20 minutes.

A study by Bernard R. McCoy, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, indicated that average students use their cellphones nearly 11 times a day while in class, for non-class related activities like texting and emailing.

At least 80 percent of the students who admitted to cell phone usage in class confessed that their phones cause them to become distracted and miss instruction.

It seems like it would be a good idea to ban cellphone usage in the classroom, but the issue isn’t so cut and dry.

Devices often are used to take notes, and it’s fairly argued that students can take quicker and more accurate notes on an iPad or laptop than with pen and paper.

Some teachers even encourage internet browsing on devices for the benefit of the class.

“Mr. Wilson will allow you to have your phone out. You can use the internet on your phone to bring up pictures of what you want to draw,” said Stefano Gambino, an MCCC student, referring to recently retired Art professor Gary Wilson.

While other professors dislike the use of cell phones, most have no issue with tablets and laptops for note-taking purposes.

“I am not a great fan of cell phones, etc. in the classroom,” English professor William McCloskey said. “I think it is rude to use some of these devices while I am lecturing or explaining something.  I try not to make a big deal about it when I see it — often, I just ignore it.  But it is rude.

“I don’t have a lot of students who use tablets or computers in class, but as long as they use them for taking notes, I don’t have a problem,” he said.
Taking notes is a good reason to have devices in class.

But according to some students around campus, the use of devices in classrooms can be distracting to students who are just trying to pay attention.

“It’s more of a laptop issue. It’s up for notes, but then they’re using it to watch Netflix or something,” student Mara Johnson said.

“In all my classes, there’s always someone on their phone sitting in front of me,” student Becca Butler said.

“This kid in my math class violently plays fruit ninja sometimes. His limbs are all over the place because he gets into it,” student Natalie Lazere said.

But not every student feels distracted by device usage in classes.

“I don’t really pay attention to what other students are doing,” Jason Lucking said.

“It hasn’t really been an issue. It was more of a thing in high school, but not in college,” student Eric Ackerman said.

There’s also the matter of whether professors should even have the right to ban cellphones and other devices.

Some students and professors don’t think so.

“A professor should never be allowed to take a phone away from a student — a phone is a personally owned device,” said student Kara Walker.

“Yet, if a student signed up for school, she is under the authority of the professor for an hour and 20 minutes, two days a week. If a professor thinks it’s best that no one has their phone out, then that’s the rule. We should be respectful,” she said.

“I would not be in favor of a policy limiting usage,” McCloskey said. “Smells like high school to me. Next thing is they’ll want me to check water bottles.”
Lucking agreed.

“They have no right to ban my personal property. If I’m paying for a class, I have the right to attend that class as I choose to,” he said.
MCCC has no official policy on the issue, other than to say that professors have wide latitude to maintain control in their classrooms.

It’s clear the debate about whether there should be a policy is widely divided, and that it’s not likely a policy will be implemented on our campus any time soon.

It’s ultimately up to the individual students to focus on paying attention.

If you must check your phone in class, be discrete and do your classmates a favor – don’t play fruit ninja in math lab.