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Students and faculty clash over classroom cell phone use

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Written by: Laura Pollack

In a survey of 50 Mercer students, 90 percent said they regularly use their cell phones during their classes. What are they using them for? Seventy-five percent of the students surveyed said they use their phones in class to send text messages, 17 percent to send text messages and go on social networking websites such as Facebook, while six percent of students are using the phones in class to play games or make purchases.

Jon Adams, a first year Communications major, said he feels that how a student spends his or her class time is up to each individual.

“This isn’t high school anymore. We are paying to take these classes. We’re at the point where we’re old enough where if we fail it’s our own fault,” said Adams. He added, “If we don’t do what we’re supposed to do than that’s on us. If these professors are going to expect us to handle the responsibilities of their classes like adults, they need to let us make our own decisions, and deal with the possible consequences, like adults would.”

Professors and administrators see things differently. Dean of Liberal Arts Robin Schore feels that texting while a teacher is giving a lecture is “beyond disrespectful.”

He went on to say, “Anybody who is caught texting in class, the instructor should be allowed to take their phone and hit it with a large sledgehammer.”

Beyond being disrespectful, many professors feel that the use of cell phones during class actually disrupts the work taking place. One English professor who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “Seeing a student text during class distracts me while I’m teaching and distracts others who are actually there to learn something. Telling people to put their phones away wastes my time. If their brains are elsewhere, why don’t they take their bodies and get out of my classroom so I can get on with educating people who give a damn?”

Christine Delozier, a second year criminal justice major, believes that texting in class is acceptable under certain circumstances.

“I usually just use [my phone] to check the time, and then check it if we’re not doing anything important, or if we’re taking notes and I finished writing the notes down already,” said Delozier. “I think it’s sometimes disrespectful. If you’re sitting there clearly not paying attention to what the teacher is saying, and they tell you not to text, then it’s disrespectful.”

The biggest problem with texting is class appears to not be students disrespecting the teachers, but how there is no set social standard for text messaging.

Communications Professor Tracey McCarthy believes that the confusion over proper cell phone etiquette extends outside of the classroom.

“I think it’s like a bigger societal problem,” said McCarthy. “The technology moves faster than the etiquette around it. It moves so fast weren’t not teaching people what is the appropriate way to talk on the phone. Should we text constantly? What’s the appropriate way to behave? We’re losing that overall.”

Professor McCarthy feels that students cannot be tuned into their phones and other activities at the same time.

“There’s this idea that we can do a lot of things at once. There’s this idea that we can multitask and that we’re good at everything. And every young college student I’ve ever met says I’m able to do all these things and nothing suffers,” she said. “But the truth is there are studies that say everything suffers. What I try to tell students on the first day of class it that you’re really not achieving all of your goals.”

Many multitasking students disagree with Professor McCartey. Both Delozier and Adams feel that they perform their activities better, or just as well, when they are multitasking than if they were to do one activity at a time.

“I feel that when professors see a kid texting, they assume that the student isn’t paying attention, which isn’t always the case,” said Adams. “There are students, myself included, who can absorb what the professor is saying, and send a message at the same time. The fact that professors say ‘you can’t focus on what I’m saying and texting’ is generalization, because while that applies to some students, it doesn’t apply to all of them.”

Despite these claims from students, Professor McCartey still tries to get her students to only focus on the task at hand.

“I want people to learn how to focus on one thing at a time because that’s how they’ll get a better education,” she said.

Dean Schore also feels that texting in class it has more to do with the act of texting than the student not wanting to pay attention.

“People would rather be somewhere else than where they are,” he said. “I suspect the person they are texting, if they were next to them they’d be on their phone texting someone else. It doesn’t have to do with the class or setting. It has to do with the digital medium.”

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