iTeach: Why some professors have such strict cellphone policies

Cellphone policies differ around campus, but what’s the reasoning behind the “death penalty” of cellphone policies?

CJ RobinsonReporter

A vibration in a student’s pocket signals them to check their cellphone. In psychology and sociology professor Leon Khalsa-Maulen’s classroom, this action could signify a letter grade drop for the entire course.

“My first goal is to have students in my classroom learn to the best of their ability and my second goal is for students not to disturb other students in the classroom who are there to learn,” Khalsa-Maulen said. “Anything that can accomplish that goal, I’m for.”

Khalsa-Maulen implemented this policy because students won’t remember details in their long-term memory if something is distracting them. Distractions in any form, including cellphones, are harmful for students, he said.

“I want every single student who comes through my classes to have that chance, a real chance, to beneift from the profound and life-changing insights offered in my two disciplines,” Khalsa-Maulen said. “Having a student sit in my classroom without participating in the learning that is taking place is a significant disturbance in the flow for everybody.”

His policy came about four years ago after Khalsa-Maulen had used different cellphone policies to control texting and web surfing in the classroom and none were effective enough, he said.

With every policy, there’d always be students who decided the drop in points was worth using their cellphones.

This eventually led to what he calls the “death penalty”—a full letter grade dropped at the end of the course if students uses their cellphones during class. Khalsa-Maulen can make exceptions to this rule under certain circumstances, but for the most part, it’s enforced with all his students.

“I respect the decisions of the teacher,” student Alyssa Mongkol said. “It’s their class, their syllabus, their rules. But that’s a little much.”

Khalsa-Maulen lets his students take advantage of a “cellphone garage,” which is a manila folder where students can put their cellphones during class. While using this isn’t required, it eliminates the potential for distraction and dropping of a letter grade when a cellphone’s in this garage. Every quarter, one or two students will defy this rule and lose a letter grade, Khalsa said.

Some students said cellphone policies this drastic are rare around campus, but many professors are trying to discourage this use in other ways. For example, student Jeremiah Crozier said instructor Amy Norton sends students out of class if they’re seen using a cellphone. Crozier said that he hasn’t seen a large number of students using cellphones in class. He also thinks Khalsa’s policy is too strict.

“I would say Norton’s policy is more effective,” Crozier said. “You can understand missing a class, but it’s not an entire grade.”

Math professor Tom McCollow also has a policy for deterring cellphone usage.

“Rather than just be an ogre about it, I try to have a little fun with it,” McCollow said. “The policy is that if we hear your cellphone, you bring donuts the next day for everyone in the class.”

McCollow said students often forget about the policy because it’s informal and isn’t always effective, but if it becomes a real distraction he’ll make sure the student puts their phone away. Regarding strict cellphone policies, he said he supports faculty members who implement them although he’d never do so himself.

“I think I’d get the point,” McCollow said. “If I were a student, I wouldn’t have my phone out.”

As for the future, Khalsa-Maulen said if anyone finds a more effective way of reducing usage in the classroom without such strict consequences, he’d like to know.

“If there’s a faculty member who has an easier policy that still accomplishes class-wide compliance, I’d adopt that policy,” Khalsa-Maulen said. “None of them (my previous policies) made a difference until it was really costly.”

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iTeach: Why some professors have such strict cellphone policies

by CJ Robinson time to read: 3 min