A few years ago I noticed a student who was twitching his arms and not paying attention in class. I took a step for a clearer view and could see that he was staring intently downward, his hands jerking away under the desk. At first I thought he was having a seizure…then the horrible thought crossed my mind that he was doing something else (one time someone was conducting phone sex in the classroom across the hall, so strange things happen). When he noticed that he was being watched by myself and the students, he looked up and said “sorry, texting.”
Since then texting has become the standard classroom activity. Students seem to think that they cannot be seen as they twitch away with their hand under the desk, but it is rather obvious. Of course, at this point most students make no pretenses about it-they openly text in class. I have had students try to cheat using their phones-hence my early adoption of a no phones during tests policy.
While I do warn students that texting in class will tend to have a negative impact on their performance, I do not have a strict no phone policy. The main reason for this is that I believe that people have a right to self-fail. After all, a student can zone out and not pay attention as they wish. A smartphone just lets them take zoning out to a new level. Also, I am something of a libertarian-if a student is not interfering with me or the other students, then I do not feel compelled to interfere with his/her choice.
When texting was new, I noticed a clear correlation between grades and texting: students who spent class texting generally did rather poorly. However, I have observed that texting has had less and less of an impact on performance. One possibility is that students have gotten accustomed to multi-tasking so that they can text with their hands while still absorbing some of the class with their ears. Another possibility is that students do their texting in class and do their class preparation outside of class (or in other classes).
While I do not text, I would bring a laptop (now a netbook) to meetings. I have found that I can actually track what is going on during the meeting while working on my netbook. As I see it, I am shifting my attention often enough to keep up with what is going on, sort of like looking at a TV show once in a while and being able to follow the show. It is sort of a mental snorkeling, like a submarine shifting from sonar to a snorkel view.
This seems to work because, to be honest, most of what I or other people say is not really critical or important and can generally be safely ignored. Of course, the shifting is not quite as good as paying full attention and it can be a problem when the majority of what is being said is actually important. For example, when I am going over how to build a truth table there is no fluff and hence anything that is missed will be rather important information.
The problem that students face while texting is that they are not often very good at discerning between what they can drift through and what requires their complete attention. The easy and obvious solution is to simply not text during class.
However, this is probably very hard on students. Apparently texting is actually addictive-sending and receiving messages stimulates the brain like drugs. Since humans are social animals and enjoy communication, the appeal of this sort of instant gratification is hardly surprising. I also suspect there is something about the technology itself that adds to its addictive quality. Texting is still new enough that part of the appeal might be the shiny factor. Or perhaps it is because when people are not texting they feel they are missing out-that things might be happening with their friends that they do not know about. This addictive factor also effects adults-when I go to faculty meetings it is just like being in a class in terms of texting.
I am apparently immune to the addictive power of texting, probably part of my general immunity in regards to phones. I do, of course, blog-but this is merely an extension of my love of writing (actual sentences).