Technology in the Classroom: Use and Misuse

By: Robyn-Jay Bage

Cell phones have taken over the world. No? They seem to have taken over college campuses, and isn’t that where revolution often begins?

am not anti-technology. In fact I am a gadget addict and have been from the days of the Betamax. technology, however convenient and useful, can be abused. I am afraid the era of cell phone misuse is upon us. We text while driving. We engage customers with cell phones in our hands. We sit at tables breaking bread with our friends and loved ones while updating our social networking pages. We record concerts on our smartphones instead of being present and enjoying the experience. 

As an educator, I am dismayed at the number of students who sit in class and use their phones to text, answer email, watch videos and update their social networking pages. No matter the activity—lecture, large group discussion, or small group work— and no matter how creative and engaging it may be, these handheld devises command interest and attention. For example, a 2010 study at the University of New Hampshire, (“Cell phone use and concentration during class”) determined that more than 50% of students use their phones in class. Tragically, these students report knowing that cell phone use limits both their concentration and their learning, yet they continue to talk, text and tweet in the classroom. Another study, “Cellular phone use in class: implications for teaching and learning: a pilot study” (Burns, 2010), indicated that more than 80% of students find cell phone use in the classroom distracting; 100% of faculty shared this view. It is often recommended that teachers incorporate technology in classroom as a way to enrich the curriculum and engage students on their own turf. I found an interesting blog in the New York Times’ Learning Network in 2010: Going Mobile: Debating and Using Cellphones in School – The authors include a number of options for using cell phones to enhance critical thinking skills. It is true that students become engrossed in learning when it is rooted in the familiar territory of cyberspace. It doesn’t follow, however, that employing technology for legitimate coursework eliminates unauthorized and disruptive use.

Academic institutions have attempted to address the issue of cell phones in the classroom through firm policies and swift penalties, with seemingly little success.  One potential explanation may be that despite the data, students are unaware that their phone use has a negative impact on others. The solution may be to increase their awareness, and make it personally meaningful:

  • At the start of the semester, reiterate the institution’s cell phone policy. You may be surprised at the number of students who tell you they didn’t know the school had one.
  • Start a conversation by asking the class why they think the policy is in place. If you are adventurous, ask them if they agree or disagree with the policy and why.
  • The most powerful voices in the classroom are often the voices of peers. Students who are distracted by their colleagues’ phones use will be your strongest champions. Give them the floor, and support their opinions with data (such as the above findings).
  • Offer students your understanding of the importance of being connected to family and work for emergencies. Ask them to let you know if they are expecting an important call or text, one that would require an immediate response and give them permission to step out of the classroom to respond.
  • Remind students why classroom etiquette is important. Explain that distracting their colleagues and disrupting the teaching and learning environment is impolite. You can paint a graphic picture (and stimulate further debate) by asking how they would react if you, the instructor, began texting someone while teaching them. I usually end this discussion by promising my students to never treat them rudely or disrespectfully, and to always offer them my very best efforts. I then ask them to promise me the same. If the conversation has been successful, each and every student makes this commitment. 

Of course, cell phones are not the only technology with the potential for misuse. More students are renting e-books instead of buying textbooks, and are bringing laptops and tablets to class. Students have innumerable fun and interesting ways to avoid learning. As a professor, I work hard to create a climate of engagement and mutual respect so that students have what they need to be successful. It is up to them to take advantage of the opportunity to learn.

Do you agree? Are cell phones allowed in your classroom or workplace? How do you manage misuse?


2 thoughts on “Technology in the Classroom: Use and Misuse

  1. I used to write for the ASPA blog about once a month…how could I get back on…thank you, am adjunct prof at Kaplan University, Colorado Technical University, California National University for Advanced Studies..and am member of ASPA thank you Caroline Weswterhof, Ph.D. Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2012 15:04:33 +0000 To:


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