Setting strict text-message rules could be key to limiting texting in class.

College students say their professors would be “shocked” to know just how often they send text messages during lectures, and one researcher has offered a simple and stringent solution: Give failing grades to text-happy students.

Nine in 10 students said in a Wilkes University study released this month that they have sent and received texts during class, although a much smaller portion of students believe educators should allow unlimited texting in class as long as it doesn’t disturb others.

Wilkes psychology professors Deborah Tindell and Robert Bohlander created a 32-question survey gauging texting habits that was answered by 269 students on the Wilkes-Barre, Pa., campus.

Their research showed the ubiquity of cell phones on college campuses—95 percent of respondents said they take their phone to class—and the prevalence of easy-to-use “QUERTY” keyboards on mobile devices, Tindell said.

“It’s becoming a bigger issue as cell phones are changing,” she said. “Technology has changed pretty drastically in the past few years. … You used to have some proficient texters, and that was it. Now, almost everyone does it.”

A quarter of Wilkes students said that “texting creates a distraction to those sitting nearby” in a classroom or lecture hall. Three-quarters of respondents said they have been disturbed by the ringing of another student’s phone.

And many students admit that texting in class doesn’t rank among the most effective academic behaviors.

One-third of Wilkes students said students who text message during class “would be affected … through a loss of attention and/or poor grades in the class,” according to the research results.

Research from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows that half of teenagers surveyed send 1,500 text messages a month, and one-third of survey respondents send 100 texts every day, or 3,000 per month.

Including a concise text-messaging policy in the start-of-semester syllabus, Tindell said, is a key to limiting texting in class. Once texting rules are in place, she said, “students don’t seem to object too much.”

The texting rules should come with consequences, of course. Tindell said her repercussions for phone activity during exams has grabbed students’ attention.

“If I hear [a cell phone] or see it, it’s an automatic zero,” she said, adding that she hasn’t had to invoke the text-time rule yet.

“I think students really appreciate [rules prohibiting texting in class], because people are bothered by it,” Tindell said. “I think students know that texting in class isn’t best thing for them.”

Laying down the text-messaging law even could hinder college students’ neurotic need to answer texts within seconds of receiving them.

“Students really do feel this compulsion to respond to the text message right away, no matter where they are,” she said. “But students are a lot less likely to text if they know there’s a policy against it.”

Instructors and professors said texting in class, once rare in lecture halls, has reached epidemic levels in recent years.

“You reach a point regarding this issue where, as an educator, you move from distracted to disheartened to exasperated to angered,” said LisaMarie Luccioni, a communications professor at the University of Cincinnati, who added that she makes sure her cell phone is turned off during lectures and student advising sessions. “I would not connect with someone via text while disconnecting from my immediate environment.”

Tindell and Bohlander included suggestions for curbing texting in class within their research summary.

The Wilkes researchers suggest doing away with desks that hide students’ text-messaging hands and disallowing students to sit behind columns that could hide them from an instructors’ view.

Docking students’ class participation grades is another anti-texting strategy included in the Wilkes research.

Luccioni from the University of Cincinnati said she includes texting rules in bold type on the front of each class syllabus. She said educators should keep an eye on students who crowd the back of a classroom or lecture hall, watching for telltale signs of sending and receiving texts.

“It’s still pretty noticeable,” Luccioni said. “You observe either downcast eyes accompanied by hand and arm movement, or even if eyes are upon you, arm and hand movement is still detectable.”

Text messaging might be the bane on many in higher education, but one IT decision maker at Georgia State University encourages use of texting in class.

David McDonald, director of emerging technologies and an associate professor in the Atlanta-based university’s business school, is inviting students to text message questions to their professors, who post the texted questions on an overhead screen.

Students’ names and phone numbers are not included in their on-screen questions, but text-message queries will raise students’ class participation grades. Each question is screened before it’s posted on the ticker for the class to read.

“Rather than trying to fight [texting], let’s use it,” McDonald said, adding that that text system has a “very strict” filtering feature that censors obscenities. “If they’re going to be doing it anyway, have them pay attention to what their teacher is saying, not what Ashton Kutcher is Twittering.”


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