Researchers have found that, unsurprisingly, students who admit to regularly using cell phones in class get a poorer grade score, on average, than students who don’t use phones. But these students are not only hurting themselves. Another study has found that students are distracted when other students text du ring lessons. Teachers likewise find it disconcerting when they notice a student more absorbed in his or her cell phone than the lesson materials. And, of course, any time taken to address these issues is time taken away from teaching.
Cell phones can also be used to cheat in exams. Some students attempt to text an accomplice to get information they need to answer a question, or even sneak a quick phone call if they are allowed a bathroom break. Another approach is to use the phone to photograph textbook pages or notes that can be used as reference material during a test.
This is not to say that cell phone use can’t be incorporated into lessons when appropriate. Students may be encouraged to use cell phones to look up information on the Web to aid in classroom discussion, for example. Outside of these explicit uses, however, cell phone use is a distraction at best, and an aid to cheating at worst.
Policies and sanctions
To address the issue, the teacher or the school should have a written policy on the use of cell phones and other electronic devices. Every student should be required to read the policy and to abide by it. The policy should clearly state what is prohibited and what the sanctions are for breaking the rules.
Teachers take a wide variety of measures to deal with cell phone use. One approach is the “one-and-done” policy: any student who pulls out a cell phone in class is immediately required to leave. Other teachers have a policy that since every interruption takes time away from the education the class is supposed to be receiving, a certain amount of time – maybe two minutes, for example – will be added onto the end of the lesson for each cell phone-related interruption.
Despite these kinds of sanctions, 65 percent of students admit to bringing phones into classrooms even when they are prohibited. They smuggle them in using a variety of creative methods, hiding them in their underwear, socks, or lunches, for example. Fifty-eight percent of these students also admit that they have texted during class.
Detection and enforcement
Some schools in New York deploy metal detectors as a safety precaution. Originally intended to prevent students from bringing weapons into the classroom, the rules now also prohibit cell phones. For the majority of schools that don’t have metal detectors, a cell phone detector is a good alternative, particularly in situations such as exams, when a cell phone could be used to cheat.
A cell phone detector can be set up in an exam room to monitor for the tell-tale transmissions of a cell phone, even in standby mode. It can then issue an alert and staff can take appropriate action to prevent a student from using a phone to cheat on the exam. Of course, once a school has a cell phone detector, it is simple enough to use it to monitor for cell phone use in classrooms also. Such devices can quickly and effectively reduce the covert use of cell phones and help teachers and students get on with the business of education.