I'm a student, so as such, it should surprise no one to learn I spend a lot of my week in classrooms. I have to sit next to fellow students who give varying degrees of a damn about the class they're in. Most of them look fairly normal, they appear to care enough to try something new, and all of them sound pretty intelligent. You'll actually find if you sit down and talk to anyone for a while that whoever you talk to probably comes across as intelligent, but I digress.
The one thing most of these students have in common is their inability to put away their cellphone. These days, most students carry a smartphone, but the choice seems to affect little. The proclivity to whip out a phone mid class to text friends or browse Facebook appears the same among smartphone and feature phone users. This distracts me and anyone else not staring at a phone every waking moment.1 It disrespects the classroom and the idea of learning something when one believes a response to Eric's message, "hey hw u doin wanna hang out 2nite," takes precedence over a 50 minute to hour and a half class.
I study English, so many of my classes involve workshops — we focus on helping each other, fostering a small community in a classroom. To disrupt it with the constant vibration of a phone and one's noticeable shuffle to grab the phone inside the backpack, conveniently laid on the desk in front of him or her to hide the phone, shows a sad lack of care for that community. In writing courses, most of us hope to become better writers. We wouldn't take courses with such loose guidelines otherwise, though I grant some may take the workshop because they feel they can pass it easily.2 The same goes for other classes: the phone disturbs others, makes it difficult to focus on the task at hand, and makes the phone-obsessed difficult to work with.
I can't say whether the phone harms students using it, nor if their grades suffer. Phones help in class too, so one shouldn't ditch the little device. Folks can use them for plenty of good: looking up definitions, finding information the instructor or another student couldn't recall, and other little situations. Smartphones can make one more productive with their easy access to information. Facebook does not. Texting does not. These students should show up, put their minds in the class mentally as well as physically, and respect the time others put into the class.
So if you find yourself ogling your phone in class, please stop yourself. Shut out your outside life in class and try to respect your classmates for the remainder of the class. We'd like to make it through without hoping a bus hit you on the way to class. One can't avoid emergencies, but Brad's wicked awesome keg stand can wait, much like his business degree.
My preferences seem rare enough these days, and I accept my sentiments won't carry into the future. I care for social networks and text messaging as much as I do waking up at 5 to 6 AM. Sometimes it's worthwhile, most times it feels like an obligation — the latter doesn't fit personal relationships. ↩
These students often experience the most difficulty passing workshops. The easiest way to get a grade is to know the exact requirements to achieve one. Workshop courses typically employ a variety of measures one can't chart out in a spreadsheet to determine the level of effort and care they spend in each class meeting. ↩