Give your students the gift of unplugging!

So, the academic term has just started. How many students have you found texting in your class already? Or checking e-mail, doing social media, or hitting the Candy Crush?

Most of us, to our chagrin, have encountered this hassle frequently — and a recent study in the Journal of Media Education reveals that the number of students who admit to using their phone during class time for non-class stuff exceeds 90%! We also have a good sense that the student defense of “multitasking” is largely bunk; study after study reveals that student multitasking with phones or computers while engaged in class or studying results in degraded academic performance.  But the lure of the digital distraction is pervasive, as many (most?) of us can attest if we’re being honest with ourselves (who here hasn’t gotten through at least part of a long meeting without a furtive phone check or two… or more?).

Louise Katz from Columbia State Community College may have found an answer, at least for her students. While some chafe at the idea of providing rewards for behavior students should be performing anyway, Katz argues in the Chronicle that a well-executed extra credit assignment might yield some valuable lessons for the digital addicts in our classrooms. So consider giving your students the gift of unplugged class periods! Some of them just might thank you for it.

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Today’s Lesson: Life in the Classroom Before Cellphones

Although I had taught for more than 20 years, I didn’t realize that I had forgotten what it was like to teach in a classroom without cellphones until I came up with a plan to relive those halcyon days. It was near the end of the semester, and I offered one point of extra credit per class period for my psychology students who turned off their cellphones before class and put them on the front desk.

I was sure that no students would part with their phones for such a meager offering. Wrong: Virtually all my students did. They even said they loved the idea, so the next semester I offered all my classes the same deal for the entire semester, and participation continued unabated. In fact, much to my surprise, after the first few days, when I walked into my classes all the cellphones were already on the table in the front of the room.

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