Why I’m deleting ‘no cellphones’ from my syllabus

When I started teaching Media Copywriting in fall 2005, the syllabus included a simple “cellphones should not be seen nor heard” line in it, with accompanying mini-lecture in class, that has remained. Until now.

tweetsStarting this semester, I’m fine if students use smartphones in class. I even hope they sometimes use them during class.

It’s a trend popping up other places, acknowledging smartphones as participatory instruments. I’ve never been a big fan of the classroom as one-way lecture megaphone. Yet the establishment position among academia resisted the inclusion of laptops and personal devices in classes. But we’ve long since reached a point where, to borrow a great line from education expert Mark Greenfield: “The question is no longer whether laptops belong in lecture halls, but whether lecture halls belong in universities.”

Consider this: My intern Alyssa (of Alyssa Explains It All fame) takes notes on her iPhone. At an astonishing rate, no less. It takes my stubby, uncoordinated fingers minutes to write a text, yet today’s students like Alyssa could compose a short essay in that time. Who are we to discriminate on what media they use for note-taking?

But smartphones can be worked into feedback and learning as well. I’ve previously given homework assignments asking students to tweet examples, responses and opinions — often with video links — on the #brc328 tag to set the tone for the next class. Why not ask them to tweet in class in response to questions or to use it as another regular feedback and discussion channel?

I’m not saying the first semester doing this won’t be a bit sloppy, and that it won’t require fine-tuning. Will students abuse the privilege and not pay attention while playing games or whatever on their smartphones? Maybe. Their loss. If they aren’t paying attention in class or taking good notes, it becomes apparent after a while and the consequences come naturally in their ability to do assignments and pass the test. I’m giving them responsibility and seeing how they use it. From my experience, I expect students to respond accordingly and receive the grade they deserve.

In any event, I’ll let you all know how it goes.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Why I’m deleting ‘no cellphones’ from my syllabus

  1. Good thoughts Tim. I wonder how the level of the students you teach would play into this too. For example, I would feel much more comfortable trying this is a 400 level class vs a 100 level. Either way. Keep us posted on how it goes.

  2. Tim

    CHRIS: Thanks! I think teaching upperclassmen — mostly seniors — with 23 students helps make this more manageable. Or so I hope.

  3. This is great, Tim. I remember Andrew Smyck had a bit in his presentation about his experiences using technology with his students in the classroom where he described how at one point the pencil, the ballpoint pen, and the calculator had all once been banned from classrooms. It makes increasingly less sense to focus on tools instead of focusing on behavior and outcomes. If students want to play Candy Crush instead of participate in class, fine. Let’s just see how well they do in class then, and how well they master the material. I think we would all be pretty bummed if we were told we couldn’t bring our laptop or smartphone or tablet to a meeting or conference. Why is it OK to take these tools away from our students?

  4. Tim

    LORI: Andrew’s presentation was one of the tipping points for this decision. Also, I can’t do my job (or basically function) without my iPhone, so it seems hypocritical to ask students to pretend they don’t exist. I’ll obviously ask them to stow them for test-taking and not to ever be disruptive of those who want to pay attention, but otherwise I’m open to how this goes.

  5. Hey TIM and LORI, thanks for the mention. The friction that new technologies cause in classroom will continue unless we look past the tools.

  6. Clara

    It’d be pretty interesting to know if the experiment succeeded. Please write back some news

  7. Pingback: Smartphones/Twitter in the classroom, an update | InsideTimsHead

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