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Should College Students Be Allowed to Text in Class?

Lafayette professor says texting and surfing the Internet are distracting for students and teachers. What do you think?

Just as every generation redefines what is obscene – Elvis’ gyrating hips seem so tame now - so too do we re-evaluate etiquette. That’s why Miss Manners will never lack for work. 

I think it’s rude when my kids are with one friend and texting another, but the teens themselves don’t seem to be offended. My “Love the one you’re with” lecture often falls on deaf ears. 

So I suspect there will be a generational divide on this question: Should laptops and cell phones be allowed in college classrooms? 

Josh Miller, a Lafayette College government professor, asked his colleagues that question after becoming frustrated with students who would text on their phones or surf the Internet on laptops during class. 

Miller, who made it clear to me that he was speaking for himself and not the college, said it’s distracting and rude. He said he’s tried humor and making comments such as “I fear someone’s texting in here” so as not to make it personal. “That used to stop things for a while,” he wrote. “What's funny is that it doesn't work anymore. They just keep texting.” 

It’s not just his classes. “I've been to two presentations this week and several kids around me were texting through the whole thing,” he said. “Tonight, during a panel presentation, one guy down the row from me used his computer for Facebook while texting on his phone. The guy next to him was playing solitaire on his computer. But then two kids nearby seemed to be using their computers to take notes.” 

That last observation is why he hesitated to put a stop to all use of laptops in class – some people employ them for legitimate purposes.  

Asked if texting is just this generation’s equivalent of doodling, Miller said he didn’t think so. You can doodle on paper and still be listening to a class discussion or lecture, but texting pulls away your focus. In that way it hinders discussions in class. 

Other professors have told me that college students have developed more of a consumer mentality than they had back in the day. One college instructor told me that some of her students felt they shouldn’t have to come to class if they didn’t want to since they - or their parents - are paying for it.  

Miller said some of the professors who responded to his query have a clear policy they put on their syllabus that there will be no cell phones or computers in use during class. He decided a couple of weeks ago to bar the use of electronics in class unless a student got special permission from the college dean. 

I asked him early this week how his new ban is working. So far, pretty well.  

“Texting is rude and distracting to the texter, professor and students,” he told me. “It will never stop completely in the classroom, just as it won't in lectures, homes, cars and movie theaters. But you can fight the good fight.” 

So what do you think? Should cell phones and laptops be allowed in college classrooms? Take our poll posted below and add your comments.

Tara Zrinski November 28, 2011 at 02:18 PM
As an adjunct at NCC, I see that prevailing mind-set a great deal but, I think it is a pretty selfish one. Sure they might waste their money but, they are also wasting the money of those students that they disrupt and distract with the texting. Sitting in a classroom and hearing the "beep" every time a student gets a reply on the text and seeing them hurry to pound away at the keys is distracting. Also, it isn't just texting anymore. Kids have smart phones, iphones, android phones that have the capability to download any sort of information. Sometimes it is useful in class but, most of the time, they are surfing, facebooking or emailing and not paying attention. Then, as the professor, they ask me "did I miss something?" or "I don't understand," and then the class is set back because they weren't paying attention. I never let cell phones out during a test or quiz either because cyber cheating is a real problem. I think it is important for young adults to know that even though they are paying for their education it is still a privilege that not everyone can afford. Many times, the student is on scholarship or financial aid. They should appreciate it and get as much as they can out of it. The skills and discipline they learn in the classroom is training for their future.
Mary Anne Looby November 28, 2011 at 02:58 PM
Great response Tara! If I were a teacher or professor I would show them the door. If you are there to learn, you do not need your phone. Grow up people. Do you think your boss is going to let you check all your texts and messages on his dime?
Ephraim Fithian November 28, 2011 at 04:00 PM
As a professor, it is difficult to keep track of what the students are doing. From the front of the class, they all look alike. From the back, it is quite a different view. I once taught classes where every student was seated at a Mac, being instructed on how to perform certain techniques. There was a screen in the front of the room demonstrating the techniques, while I commented. I could see all of the activity of the students. If one had a problem, I would go to that student individually and give personal assistance. The problem is that you can't see their eyes, but I would notice any surfing or texting on their Macs or other devices.
MS November 28, 2011 at 04:39 PM
Yes, your absolutely right, they SHOULD appreciate it and use it to the best of their ability, but it's very obvious they don't...and really...are we going to now be nanny's to the college students as well?
MS November 28, 2011 at 04:45 PM
I guess my point of view is this....We say now when our kids are in 1st through 12th that they shouldn't have cell phones on them in class, we know that is not the case, kids are on their phones in school and I'm not talking college. I hear about it from my own kids, sure, the schools are trying their best to stop this and when they do find someone with a phone in use, I think they take it away and probably until the end of the school year, and I have no problem with that. My son has a cell phone on him and he knows, it's for after he gets off that bus, I want to make sure he has that on him if he needs it on his way home, if he forgets his key, if the lock sticks etc.....(it's an old house)....BUT, if he pulls it out in school and it gets taken away, too darn bad, you just lost your phone till the end of the year, now you better make sure you have your key when you leave in the morning cause if not, your sitting on the porch till I get home. When it comes to a college student, they are old enough to make those decisions, if they know a professor doesn't want a cell phone on in class it's their decision to keep it off or use it, but, I certainly don't think we need to be parenting them like we do when our kids are in the primary grades. These kids in college are there to further their education, it's their choice and it's not a requirement....it's their loss if they don't pay attention and hopefully their classmates have the backbone to tell them what a waste it is.

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