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How to deal with mobile phones in class? | [Howard G.]

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Part of my career is teaching public speaking at a large university.How can I have students put away their smart phones for class ??

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Topic starter

Dear Howard, I share your pain.

Mobile phones in class… how do I deal with them?  

Personally, I hate students using electronic devices of any type during our classes together.  I dislike all blanket bans, so I don’t outright ban phones in any context… but I do come close at times.  I teach leaders and I believe that they can be trusted, and they are fully responsible for their actions and the consequences of their actions.

Many adult humans are so addicted to our mobile phones that they present a special case.  Even mature, conscientious adults can be unaware of quite how often they check their mobile and of the negative impact that this habit is having on those around them.  Usually the tough cases say “I am taking notes on my device, I use evernote”…  I am not the police, I am a teacher… so I am not going to enforce absolute rules… but work to establish a context in which all participants proactively engage in the learning process.

I believe I have one single duty as a teacher: have each participant believe 2 things at the end of our time together:

  1. Capable“I am capable of doing this well”
  2. Important“It will make a difference to my life if I do this well”

All of the tools are available via google, in books, on youtube… if a student believes they are capable and that it is important. If they don’t walk away with these 2 beliefs, it does not matter how many tools and resources they have access to.

Establishing a Classroom Agreement

If I have a couple of sessions together with a group I will take some time (between 10 minutes and 30 minutes) to establish a set of agreements on how we will be together.  I let the class know that we will be taking risks in order to grow as professionals and as people, and that I need their help to create an atmosphere in which they are willing to be vulnerable, take risks and receive feedback.

Some of the areas for agreement as a group:

  • Will we hear from a few voices, or will we hear from everyone?
  • Will we use technology all the time, only in breaks, or only at the end of the day?
  • Will we have multiple conversations or will we have one single conversation in the room?
  • Will we engage if we have questions?
  • Will we give our best effort to reserve judgement and provide feedback based on the specific behaviours we have seen?

I find that this discussion and agreement often gives me permission to just look at a participant using their mobile device (usually just under the desk where they think that nobody will recognise what they are doing) is enough for them to say “sorry” and that feeling of embarrassment is enough that others don’t risk it.

I’ve had a few hard core cases over the years who really pushed my limits.  I have thrown several participants out of the class over the years – never for anything they did to me, but for a way that I have seen them treat a fellow classmate – if I see anybody treat another participant with Cynical Apathy they will be immediately removed from the room.  You can fight with me, you can call me names… but you insult a courageous attempt by a fellow classmate and you are gone.

Are you a teacher?  What works for you?  How do you approach mobile phone usage in the classroom?