The tell-tale body-language gives the game away:

  • The student’s head is down when every other head is up.
  • He’s typing when no one else is typing.
  • A little smirk appears on his face when looking at his screen (and you didn’t tell a joke).
  • He doesn’t laugh when you do tell a joke.
  • The glazed look when he “returns” to planet classroom.
  • He then leans across to copy his neighbor’s notes

All the classic signs of a student texting, tweeting, updating, or emailing in class. And now we have the statistics to confirm our suspicions:

  • 90 percent of students admit to using their devices for non-class activities during class times. Less than 8 percent said that they never do so.
  • Undergraduates reporting using their devices for non-class purposes 11 times a day, on average, compared to 4 times a day for graduate students.
  • Asked why they were using their devices in class, the top answer was texting (86 percent), followed by checking the time (79 percent), e-mail (68 percent), social networking (66 percent), web surfing (38 percent) and games (8 percent).

Solutions?
The problem is so huge and engrained you wonder if it is even worth fighting against it? Some teachers have resorted to banning all electronic devices in their classes. However this antagonizes students big time, with only 9% agreeing with this idea. And it’s not just those who want to keep texting; many students have got so used to typing their notes that they’ve forgotten how to write!

Other teachers publish a “Technology use” policy as part of their syllabus, and 54% of students think this is a reasonable step. However, to have any effect, these policies need to be enforced with sanctions and many teachers hate acting the part of the NSA in their classrooms.

Many teachers have decided to simply abandon the traditional lecture and to teach using more interactive and discussion type lessons. Some have tried “flipping” the classroom by putting most of their teaching online for accessing outside class hours and using the class time for exercises, assignments, labs, etc. Some students love this; others absolutely hate it.

I know some teachers whose answer is to make all class lectures “examinable,” which certainly increases attentive note-taking. However, that kind of “constant threat” takes away much of the joy of learning (and of teaching).

Morals
Instead of resorting to judicial or methodological remedies, maybe teachers should try appealing more to the moral sense of their students. Here are some good moral levers we can pull:

1. Respect: It’s basic good manners to listen to someone who is talking to you, especially if they have spent 10-20 hours preparing a lesson for your benefit.

2. Example: I sat at the back of a class once and watched as one student started checking email, followed by another close by, then another, then another. It was like watching dominoes fall. Your bad example can impact a whole class.

3. Distraction: Obviously emailing when you should be listening is going to limit your understanding and recall of the lecture. But your surfing and Facebooking is also distracting others beside you and behind you.

4. Discouraging: If your lecturer has any tech-savvy, he’s able to tell when you’re “in the class” and when you’re in the World Wide Web. It’s not exactly going to motivate him to prepare lessons and deliver them with passion if you’re continually in a digital daze.

5. Justice: It’s a strange thing, but life has the tendency to bite back. I’ve noticed that areas where I sinned against my teachers and pastors are biting back now that I’m in their roles. In the future, God may give you a bitter taste of your own medicine to teach you to be sorry for your past sins.

6. Habit-forming: School is the place to prepare for our working life. If you get into the habit of constantly checking social media in classes, you’ll do it in your future office, factory, etc., and in future work-related meetings. The longer your habit goes on, the more difficult it will be to change.

7. Damaging: Plenty research is confirming the damaging effects of digital distraction on the brain. It is harming our ability to think long, deep, and on one thing at a time.

At the end of the day though, maybe teachers should also take  more responsibility to make their teaching more interesting and stimulating. “What is the best way,” asked a young preacher of an older one, “to get the attention of the congregation?” “Give ’em something to attend to,” was the gruff reply.