Cell phone disruptions

If any class on campus is quiet enough, the light tapping of students’ thumbs against cellphone keyboards can be heard. Unfortunately for professors at Wilfrid Laurier University, students’ use of the devices has become more of an annoyance as the devices have become ubiquitous.

With plain talk-and-text cell phones soon to be a thing of the past, more and more students are carrying smartphones. Whether an iPhone, Blackberry or Android phone, students can now have access to social media like Twitter along with instant messaging and web browsing at their fingertips.

Though every course syllabus at Laurier features a blurb about the prohibition of cell phones and other electronic devices, students don’t seem particularly respective of the regulation.

In an online poll conducted by The Cord, 27 per cent of Laurier students admitted to voluntarily using their cell phones at least once per class, and an additional 41 per cent said that they will use their phone provided someone texts them first while 12 per cent said that they don’t intend to use their phones, but often forget to turn them off. Approximately 20 per cent of students said that they their turn phones off.

Languages professor John Schwieter is one of many profs who aren’t fooled by students who text under their desks. “They usually sit way back in their chairs and put their hands halfway under their desks but on their lap, and they’re constantly just making little arm movements,” Schwieter said knowingly. “In terms of their attention level – they’re not even looking up.”

Some students remark that a confusing double-standard is set when professors themselves are constantly glancing at and fidgeting with their Blackberries.

Trevor Holmes, a contract academic staff member in cultural studies at WLU and a full-time staff member at the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence, suggests that it may not be quite accurate to characterize this as a professor-versus-student problem.

“How many professors have, in both academic and non-academic settings, seen colleagues apparently multitasking with Blackberries and iPhones during committee meetings, presidential addresses, and guest lectures?” Holmes mused.

“The problem may be a symptom of communication technology’s ubiquity and a general decline in respect for situations that used to carry a certain gravitas.”

Holmes believes that professors and students alike could use these devices productively — such as Tweeting quiz questions and answers.
But he believes that using phones during lectures and meetings is inappropriate.

Schwieter isn’t as concerned about the distraction, but said that using phones in class to chat about less pressing matters is insulting to an educator. “It does make me think twice about how I feel about that student,” he said.

In fact, Schwieter does not allow any electronic devices, with the exception of laptops only for students who truly need them.

He’s been wary about the use of laptops since an incident two years ago, when a student brought a laptop to class, allegedly to take notes. An entire row of students, “were all watching this football game,” he recounted.

Since then, Schwieter asks that the few students using laptops sit in the very back row to create as little distraction as possible for other students.

Other professors prefer the opposite — keeping their laptop-using students in the front of the classroom in order to better monitor their activities.

Four years ago, 18 million Canadians were using mobile phones — a number almost on par with the amount of landline users.

The number has only risen since then.

With cell phones a part of everyday life, profs may be giving up hope that they can ever fully ban them from classrooms.

“I’m just wondering if it’s something that you can’t beat anyway,” Schwieter said bleakly.

Laurier cell phone statistics

41%say they will use their phone in class if someone texts them first.

27%admit to voluntarily using cell phones at least once per class.

20%say they turn their phones off while in class.

12%state they don’t intend to use their phones but often forget to turn them off once class starts.