Monday, November 29, 2010

Draft Policy on Mobile Devices

Lately I've been thinking about how and why students use electronic gadgets in class. A fair amount of research and anecdotal evidence shows that students are using mobile phones (and other devices) far more than most faculty recognize. Quoting Wilkes University research:
"95 percent of students bring their phones to class every day and 91 percent have used their phones to text message during class time. Almost half of all respondents indicated that it is easy to text in class without their instructor being aware. In fact, students frequently commented on the survey that their professors would be 'shocked' if they knew how much texting went on in class."
I certainly remember taking a community college refresher course last year and observing that roughly one third of my fellow students seemed more interested in updating their Facebook pages than in focusing on the topic at hand.

My initial response to the notion of students fiddling with their machines in my classroom is to propose a draconian rule: no mobile devices, ever. I didn't use them in my college classes, I figure; students don't need them today. Upon reflection, though, that approach strikes me as being shortsighted.

So now I've developed a more nuanced response, one that affirms my basic respect for the autonomy of adults while trying to maintain a minimal standard of decorum and practicality.

My plan is to share a revised version of this note with my students this spring [here's the current draft]. It's over-written, I admit it, and it's crafted in a more legalistic tone than I'd prefer. But my written policy is merely a supporting document for a conversation I intend to conduct with my students.

Few students (if any) will actually read these words. I just want to have something written down. At a minimum, a message like this signals that I've considered the issue carefully. Better yet, this note might help us avoid frustration later on.

Here's a draft.

Any thoughts? Concerns? Recommendations? Please post a comment.

Also, fellow faculty members, do you have a mobile device policy that you'd like to share? I'd love to see it.

Mobile Devices in Class

You may use mobile devices (phones, laptops, etc.) in my class so long as you follow basic social and ethical guidelines.

To explain those guidelines, let me first explain why I created a mobile device policy at all. Like it or not, virtually all students bring electronic gadgets to class. And why not? You want to stay connected to friends and family, and sometimes important news just can't wait until the end of class. Moreover, these devices aren't toys; they're tools.

Today's mobile devices enable you to check notes, update your calendar, or perhaps get a second opinion on assertions I may offer. Additionally, mobile devices play an essential role in our university's emergency notification network. It therefore seems silly to mandate that you cannot access your phones, laptops, and other electronic tools in class.

That being said, there are three obvious exceptions to this policy, related to testing, privacy, and distraction. In these cases I must adopt a hard line.

1. You may not use any mobile device while any student is taking a quiz or test in the classroom. Restricting the use of mobile devices in a testing environment is a matter of integrity, both practical and perceptual. And I would be well within my rights to interpret any such usage (without my express permission) as a sign of cheating.

2. You may not use any mobile device to record sound or images in class without my consent. Why? Well, for starters, even though you are attending a public university, my classroom is not located in the "public domain." No one in this class has authorized you to record their images or voices. Doing so without gaining permission thus constitutes an invasion of privacy - and potentially a form of theft.

Let me explain: My lectures and other classroom activities are my intellectual property. And while I recognize that student fees help pay for the costs of this room (and for my services) I do not wave my right to create and distribute classroom content as I see fit. That's why you must ask my permission (ideally in written form) to photograph a slide, record a lecture, or distribute my likeness in any way.

3. You may not use any mobile device in a manner that distracts other people. If your use of a mobile device disturbs other folks (especially with ringtones or loud buzzing) - or if attention paid to your device means that you cannot participate meaningfully in our conversations - you may be required to leave the class.

That regrettable action may seem harsh. But ultimately it's a matter of respect. You deserve my full attention in the classroom; I ask for a reasonable portion of the same. If you want to send a quick text or perform a brief web search, feel free. Just be discrete. If you need a gentle reminder about this policy, I'll provide one. Thereafter my approach must become much more strict.

After all, our classroom is a community. What we do and say here matters. There's an anxious, busy world beyond our walls, I know. But that world can wait, at least for the brief time we share together. And when it can't, you can always quietly step outside. I merely ask you to remember that this class - indeed, your choice to seek a degree - is ultimately your choice. And with that choice comes certain responsibilities. One of them: contributing to a respectful learning environment.

Otherwise, there's really no point in coming to college at all.


~Darcinator~ said...

I think it is a great draft! I do want to point out that as a student, sometimes seeing other students on facebook is just as distracting as hearing music or a phone ringing. However, outside the academic world, there are just as many distractions, and the students need to be able to deal with them. I do think that in your policy it might be a good idea to mention that regardless of mobile device use, every student is still expected to participate and contribute to the class. That way, students are still required to be engaged (not that being engaged is difficult in your class!)

Andrew Wood said...

Yep, you should see the older draft. I had six micro-paragraphs on the issue of non-aural distractions (e.g., seeing someone else using FB and being distracted).

I excised those 'graphs because they got a bit wonkish (and rantlike - as Jenny reminded me). But I might try to sneak some of that sentiment back in. :-)

I'll also review the draft to ensure that adequate coverage is given to the importance of participation.

Thanks for your thoughts, Darcy!

Andrea said...

We recently had a professional electronic device policy created by our district. This applies solely to teachers who participate in professional development and meetings within and outside the district. Among the guidelines we were given:
Please keep all devices on silent during the class. In the event that you believe you will receive an urgent call, they ask you to sit close to the door, so you can make a quick escape. Other than a quick glance when a phone rings, we are expected to take phone calls or other such "interruptions" out of the site of the meeting/class. Laptops (which are issued by the district to all personnel) are only to be used to check email during breaks and to proceed with professional business during the actual event. At the principal's or supervisor's discretion, a written reprimand may be placed in our personnel file for "multiple infractions." And unequivocally, we are NOT at any time permitted to use check cell phones, check email, or use our computers for anything other than professional business when in the presence of students.

On a lighter note, the way this was described/demonstrated to us was by our administration team who were running a faculty meeting and spent the first 15 minutes breaking all of these rules...and then having us brainstorm norms for electronic use. Amazingly, our restrictions were very similar to the ones stated by the district.

Sorry so wordy, but I thought I would share. :) Hope all is well with you guys out there...hug Jenny for me!

Alena said...

I will look forward to seeing your final draft.

I stole an idea from someone on CRTNET who had a policy that if any of your electronic devices make a sound in my classroom (ringing, beeping, whatever), the perpetrator owes the entire class a sweet treat at the next class session.

This won't take care of students on their iPads or laptops, but it has really cut down on the cell phones going off.

And when the students don't remember to silence their cells, my girlish figure benefits. We've enjoyed class-quantity cookies, doughnuts, candy, and pie.

Andrew Wood said...

Andrea: Hard core! Thanks for sharing that policy. I also dig your "lighter note." Amazing but true, when folks are given the chance to form the rules of their own society, they tend to be reasonable. It's not so fun when those rules are handed down from upon high, though.

Alena: Yeah, I'm with you. The policy would be fun, but it'd be ruinous for my waistline!