by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, January 14, 2010

Over the past year, or so, faculty at our institution of higher learning have been having discussions about, what we perceive, as "disruptive" student behaviors in the classroom. As a small, liberal arts school, with relatively small class sizes (less than 35 students per class), student actions out of the norm become more noticeable. These behaviors include, but are not limited to,

  • Walking into class late
  • Getting up in the middle of class (and often passing in front of classmates) to go to the bathroom, getting something to eat or drink, answer a phone call, smoke
  • Talking to others (which has always been a problem)
  • Having a cell phone ring in class
  • Surfing the web on a laptop during class
  • Wanting to listen to an mp3 player during an exam
  • Texting during class
This discussion even let to a small conference before the fall semester began to discuss these issues.

So, it was with great interest when I read about a student blog called "Raging Wildflower" and a post he made about cell phone bans. He writes:

"I’m sure others out there are experiencing my pain when it comes to professors and the obnoxious policies they implement regarding cell phone usage during lecture. In the past, I’ve tolerated their dictatorship like authority and snuck messages under the desk or behind my laptop, but that era is over. In my latest course, the professor thinks he has the right to automatically deduct 10% of a students final grade for any single use of cell phones: that means texting, tweeting, facebooking, and the like."

He goes on to say, "I pay their fees for a degree, in turn, respect my decision to text." Very worth reading just for the comments.

Is the student correct? Should a student have the "right" to text during class?

In my own experience, the only penalty I impose is when a cell phone rings in class, as it is an immediate lecture/discussion killer as all attention turns to the phone ringing, and the student has the opportunity to control this action by turning off the phone prior to class. For the rest of the actions, I simply state my expectations regarding their behavior during the semester:

·No texting, twittering, Facebooking, or use of laptop computers during class time

·Use the break prior to class appropriately for restroom, food and drink, smoking, texting, cell phone use, etc.

·To only leave the classroom for an emergency; we have only 50 minutes together

·No iPod/mp3 players on during exams

·To be in your seats and ready to go at the beginning of class


The fact that we pay tuition does not validate any actions. Does that mean that we should be able to smoke, drink, etc. in class?

I think professors should prioritize their expectations. In my opinion, texting is distracting, but is less distracting than some of the other issues you mentioned.

I do, however, think it's inappropriate to arrive late or leave in the middle of a session (unless there is an emergency). If you can't make it through a 50-, or even 70-minute class without getting a snack, then you have issues. In my Calculus class, there was one guy who showed up to class at least 15 minutes late EVERY SINGLE DAY. Now THAT was extremely distracting. It made me laugh because somehow he found time to pick up a smoothie from Ed's before class.

Overall, I think it's up to the professor to set limits in his/her classroom, as long as the limits are prioritized based on the level of distraction.

by Anonymous on January 14, 2010 at 9:31 AM. #

Matt, while long out of college, I think it comes down to respect. Students should be prepared to show respect in the form of their attention when they are in the class. I do not think your expectations are unreasonable. It would be no different in the working world. When in a meeting, most people will still look at someone as being rude if they are consistently late to meetings, on their cell or blackberry during meetings, etc. Stick to your policies on this one and I think they'll see that it will help them when they graduate and enter the workforce.

by Trish McFarlane on January 15, 2010 at 12:57 PM. #

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