8 different perspectives on laptops and phones in classrooms

Daily Briefing

8 different perspectives on laptops and phones in classrooms

Around 97% of college students admit to using their phones during class, and faculty are divided on how to respond. How should teachers deal with students’ use of laptops and phones during class? Stances on this topic run the gamut from banning all devices to giving students complete independence, Anya Kamenetz writes for NPR.

Kamenetz asked four faculty members, one high school teacher, a psychiatrist, and an app co-founder to explain their stance on devices in the classroom. Here’s what they said.


of college students admit to using their phones during class
of college students admit to using their phones during class

Allia Griffin, lecturer at Santa Clara University: No matter how invested students are in a discussion, a phone beep can distract them, says Griffin. Students also tend to hide behind their devices, using them to avoid participating in class or engaging with their peers, she says.

Katherine Welzenbach, high school chemistry teacher: According to Welzenbach, devices connect teens to “unhealthy” experiences, such as cyberbullying and hate speech. Unlimited access to the internet won’t teach students how to use their devices appropriately, she warns.

Jesse Stommell, director of University of Mary Washington’s Teaching and Learning Technologies: Stommel argues that blanket bans against devices restrict students’ freedom. In certain class scenarios, technology can aid student learning, he says. If students need to look up a confusing term, for example, it makes sense for them to use their laptops, he adds.

Catherine Prendergast, English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Blanket bans on devices make the classroom less inclusive for students with disabilities, Prendergast says. And making students request to use their laptop may unintentionally invade students’ privacy by forcing them to disclose a disability, she adds. 

Victoria Dunckley, psychiatrist: Some young people need to limit their screen time to protect their mental health, says Dunckley, author of Reset Your Child’s Brain.

Derek Bruff, director of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching: Faculty must adjust their teaching styles to compete with technological distractions, Bruff says. Traditional lectures, for example, aren’t very engaging and may exacerbate students’ need to check their phones, he argues. Instead, he suggests incorporating devices in a way that requires students to use them productively.

Alanna Harvey, co-founder of Flipd: Fight technology with technology, says Harvey. Professors and students alike will have trouble ignoring devices that are designed to “influence and manipulate our behavior,” she argues. Apps like Flipd that limit the use of a device for a set amount of time can help students and educators tune out distractions, she says.

John Warner, adjunct faculty member at the College of Charleston: In Warner’s classroom, students “self-govern” their use of technology. Students are so busy in his writing class that he doesn’t really worry about potential digital distractions, he says (Kamenetz, NPR, 1/25/2018).

You see them everywhere: Heads down, tapping away, wandering your campus entranced by an increasingly digital world. But what, exactly, are your students doing? And as a student success leader, how can you capitalize upon their “mobile” mindshare? Maybe the better question to ask is “What don’t students do on their phones?” From checking when…

Smartphones invade every aspect of our lives, even when we aren’t using them. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, researchers Kristen Duke, Adrian Ward, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten Bos discuss their study of how smartphones affect our ability to perform cognitive tasks. Their findings suggest a person’s “fluid intelligence”—the ability to reason and…

Higher ed leaders often think about social media in the context of enrollment, from connecting with prospective, underrepresented students to engaging admitted students to reduce summer melt. But social media has also opened the door to new forms of engagement in the classroom. For instance, several instructors have recently discussed how they’re not only using…

Around 97% of college students use their phones during class for non-educational purposes, according to a study published last month in Journal of Media Education. The survey looked at self-reported information from 675 undergraduate and graduate students in 26 states between 18 and 22 years of age. Forty-one percent of respondents said that they spent…

Students are more politically divided today than they’ve ever been before. In such a climate, how can faculty members teach students how to debate sensitive issues productively? Too often, the discussion either falls silent or escalates out of control. Writing for EdSurge, two teachers—Zach Seagle and Justin Taylor—discuss how and why they’ve turned to Slack,…

Logging you in