Student Cell Phone Use in College Classrooms
The cell phone is one of the most widely used forms of technology today. Worldwide, over two billion people own cell phones (Campbell, 2006). “The number of cell phones in the United States rose from 1.2 million in 1987 to 145 million in 2002” (Obringer & Coffey, 2007, p. 41). Today, cell phones are seen almost everywhere in the United States, but one place they might be seen too often is the classroom. High schools and middle schools across the country have adopted policies that either ban or regulate cell phone use by their students, but colleges and universities have done little to address the problem. In a study of undergraduate students, Diamanduros, Jenkins, and Downs (2007) found that 98% of participants owned a cell phone. Features such as text messaging and games make it possible for students to use their cell phones during class without disturbing the instructor or other students. There is also the problem of cell phones ringing during class, which may cause a disruption during lecture. Whether colleges and universities should adopt policies against cell phones in class is a topic of debate across the country.
One issue with cell phones is that social norms for behavior in public places conflict with those for phone conversations, which presents challenges as well as opportunities for cell phone use in public (Campbell, 2006). According to Myers (2008), social norms are “standards for accepted and expected behavior” (p. S-7). Cell phones conflict with some social norms because they present the opportunity to have a phone conversation in any public place, including places where having a phone conversation is not considered acceptable behavior, such as in class. Classrooms are among the least acceptable places for cell phone use. A study by Campbell (2004) found that participants viewed talking on a cell phone while on public sidewalks, in grocery stores, and on buses as socially acceptable, but considered cell phone use in classrooms and movie theaters to be unacceptable (as cited in Campbell, 2006). However, cell phones are becoming a common sighting in school settings. According to 2004 data, 58% of 6th-12th graders have a cell phone, and 68% bring their cell phones to school regularly (Obringer & Coffey, 2007). Cell phones are regarded as a nuisance in most classrooms, but students continue to bring the phones to class, and even use them for text messaging or other forms of entertainment during lectures. According to Campbell (2006) this may be due to the popularity of cell phones, especially among young people, because there is “a potential for a disconnect between the desire to use the technology and social norms of when/where to use it” (p. 282).
Text messaging has become very popular among college students as well as other age groups. The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, reported that about 5 billion text messages were sent per month in the United States in 2005, which is up from 2.8 billion in 2004 (as cited in Harper, 2006). The Pew Internet & American Life survey found that 63% of college aged Americans text message on a normal basis (as cited in Harper, 2006). An article in the University of Central Missouri’s (UCM) Muleskinner states that students “text during class to pass the time” (Harper, 2006, p. 1). Text messaging is the most preferred method of communication for quick conversations among undergraduates (Diamanduros et al., 2007).
Many cell phones also come with games, or at least the capabilities to download games. These games are becoming another way for students to entertain themselves during lectures. In a study of 1,162 college students, one-third of the participants reported playing games on their cell phones or laptops during class, and also reported that it did not affect their academic performance (Gilroy, 2004).
So how do professors feel about their students using cell phones in class? In a poll conducted by the National Education Association’s higher education division in 2003, that asked whether professors should ban cell phones in their classrooms, 85% of the respondents answered yes (as cited in Gilroy, 2004). “Many faculty consider classroom use of cell phones at the very least uncivil and at worst a serious distraction to the learning environment” (Gilroy, 2004, p. 56). Professors are especially against cell phones because of their tendency to ring while they are lecturing, thus causing a disruption. Some professors have confiscated phones that ring during class, and others have threatened to add time to the end of class to make up for the disruption. One community college professor’s policy involved the use of a pop quiz every time a cell phone rang, and another professor put in her syllabus that if a student left class to answer a call, it would count as one unexcused absence (Gilroy, 2004). Most professors are not that extreme with their cell phone rules; they usually just include a sentence or two in the course syllabus stating that all cell phones should be turned off during class. However, with around 85% of college students owning cell phones, and no college-wide policies in place, students seem to be testing the limits of appropriate in class behavior, and faculty tolerance regarding cell phones (Gilroy, 2004).
Students do not always agree with policies against cell phones in class. Students are usually against the idea of professors confiscating their phones for text messaging during class. In an article by Harper (2006), two UCM students stated that they think text messaging in class is impolite, but believe students should still be allowed to do it. In the same article, another student revealed that he did not think that professors should take his phone away or say anything about him text messaging in class as long as he is not disrupting class. Dave Kopp, adjunct instructor of communication at UCM, agrees stating that the confiscation of cell phones from students is “too much like being in high school,” but agreed that cell phones should be banned in classrooms or at least turned off (as cited in, Harper, 2006, p. 1). However, it is difficult to enforce a policy that would ban cell phones in college classrooms, as the student association at the University of Nebraska found out when they considered a bill that would ban cell phones in classrooms. Since the association could not find a way to enforce the bill, they voted to post signs in every classroom reminding students to turn off their cell phones instead (Gilroy, 2004).
Attitudes about cell phone use in class seem to differ between faculty and students. This may be due to the very different roles they play in the educational process, or because of their own experience with the technology and degree of use. It has also been found that tolerance for cell phone use in public increases the more heavily you use the technology yourself (Campbell, 2006). Research suggests that for adolescents and young adults, the cell phone is an extremely important device for connection with friends, whereas older adults use cell phones more for logistical coordination and safety/security reasons. A study of 96 students and 80 faculty members at a Western U.S. university by Campbell (2006), showed that younger participants made more positive assessments of cell phones in college classrooms and were particularly more tolerant of cell phones ringing during class than older participants. However, faculty/student status was not found to be related to attitudes about cell phone use in class (Campbell, 2006).
Cell phone use also seems to differ between the genders. Males tend to stress the technical functions of cell phones, while females value the more social aspects, such as design, ring tone, and color (Campbell, 2006). A study by Jenaro, Flores, Gómez-Vela, González-Gil, and Caballo (2007) found that 28.6% of males were classified as heavy cell phone users, while 56.3% of females were classified as heavy users.
With cell phone ownership continuing to grow in the United States, when and where it is appropriate to use a cell phone is becoming an issue in society. Many public places, such as libraries and theaters, have implemented rules about when and where you can use your cell phone. However, one place that needs rules about cell phones is the classroom. Rules banning cell phones in classrooms have been implemented in most secondary schools. Some high schools do not allow students to use their cell phone at all during school, telling them that cell phones should be turned off and left in their lockers until the end of the day. Colleges and universities, however, have done little to control students’ cell phone use in class. Some college officials say that because students pay to attend classes, they should be allowed to use their cell phone as long as they are not disturbing other students. Others believe that even a student using their cell phone to text message during class can be disturbing to students sitting near him or her. Many professors have started to include statements in their syllabus that instruct students to turn off their cell phones during class, but does that actually affect how students use cell phones during class?
The purpose of this study is to examine the personal cell phone use of students in class, and if that cell phone use is affected by the cell phone policy of the professor. The first hypothesis is that a cell phone policy that the professor includes in the syllabus for a course will not affect how students use their cell phones in that class, unless the policy is actually enforced by the professor. This study will also examine differences in perceptions and tolerance levels of cell phone use in class by students. The second hypothesis is that students will be more tolerant of other students’ cell phone use in class, rather than professors. This study will also examine how cell phone use in class differs between gender and year in college. The hypotheses for these parts of the study are that females will report more in-class cell phone use than males, and underclassmen will report more in-class cell phone use than upperclassmen.
Participants in this study were six college professors and 189 undergraduate students at the University of Central Missouri. There were 142 female participants and 53 male participants. All participants were at least 18 years of age. Some of the student participants who took the survey received two research participation points through the SONA Psychology Research Participation System.
Participants in this study were given surveys. Different surveys were developed for professor and student participants. Professors were given a hard copy of the survey (see Appendix B for complete survey), along with an informed consent form, which they were asked to sign and return to the researcher with their completed survey. Students took an online survey, which contained an informed consent form at the beginning for participants to read (see Appendix A for complete survey). Students were not asked for their signed consent, instead reading the informed consent form and then completing the online survey was evidence of their consent. The first part of the survey contained questions written by the researcher and were multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank. An example of one of these questions is, “How often do you use you cell phone for text messaging during class?” The second part of the survey contained questions developed by Campbell (2006) (see Appendix C for complete scale), these questions asked participants to rate their response on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). One example of these questions is, “I would agree with a university policy against mobile phone use during class time.”
The researcher contacted professors via e-mail and asked if they would be interested in participating in this study. Faculty who agreed to participate were given a copy of the professor survey and informed consent form. Faculty were then given the web address for the online student survey, which most of faculty participants posted onto Blackboard so their students could access the survey. The students were asked to give the name of the faculty member who gave them the web address of the survey, so that students could be compared to their faculty member on survey questions that asked about the faculty member’s cell phone policy and how the policy was enforced. Faculty were asked to attach a copy of their cell phone policy, if they had one, to their survey, so the policies could be compared in terms of strictness and enforcement. Debriefing forms were attached to the end of the faculty survey and appeared at the end of the online student survey to thank participants.
Chi-Square Tests of Independence were used to analyze all data. The hypothesis that a cell phone policy that the professor includes in the syllabus for a course will not affect how students use their cell phones in that class, unless the policy is actually enforced by the professor was supported by the data. Results showed that students who have a professor that enforces a cell phone policy report using their cell phones in class significantly less than students who have professors that do not enforce a cell phone policy χ² (2, N=177) = 8.85, p<.05 (see Table 1). However, there was no significant difference in how much students used cell phones in classes with enforced cell phone policies compared to their other classes.
The hypothesis that students would be more tolerant of cell phone use in class by other students than professors was also supported by the data. Results showed that professors found student cell phone use in class to be significantly more distracting when compared to students χ² (4, N=195) = 32.65, p<.001. Professors also indicated that they would agree with a university policy against cell phone use in class significantly more often than students χ² (4, N=195) = 10.03, p<.05.
It was hypothesized that females would report more cell phone use in class than males; however, results concerning gender and the amount of cell phone use in class showed no significant difference between males and females. The hypothesis that underclassmen would report more cell phone use in class than upperclassmen was also not supported by the data. Results showed no significant difference in cell phone use in class between grade levels.
Additional results concerning student’s knowledge of their professor’s cell phone policy showed that students were more aware of a cell phone policy when the professor enforced it at least some of the time χ² (2, N=177) = 39.66, p<.001 (see Figure 1). Results also showed that students who had a professor that reported enforcing a cell phone policy responded “yes” to a question asking if their professor enforced a cell phone policy significantly more often than students of professor’s who reported no enforcement χ² (2, N=177) = 26.75, p<.001.
The main hypothesis of this study was that a cell phone policy that the professor includes in the syllabus for a course will not affect how students use their cell phones in that class, unless the policy is actually enforced by the professor. This hypothesis was supported by the results of the study because students of professors who enforced a cell phone policy reported using their cell phones in class significantly less than students of professors who do not enforce a policy. However, students with professors who enforced cell phone policies did not report using their cell phone in that professor’s class significantly less than in their other classes. These results could suggest that students use their cell phones about the same amount in every class, regardless of the professor’s cell phone policy. The results could also suggest that a majority of the students’ professors do enforce a cell phone policy.
The hypothesis that professors would be less tolerant of cell phone use in class than students was supported because professors reported that they find cell phone use in class to be distracting significantly more often than students. Professors also seem to be less tolerant of cell phones in class because they would agree with a university policy against cell phone use in class significantly more often than students. These results contradict Campbell (2006), which found that faculty/student status was not related to attitudes about cell phone use in class.
There were only six professors surveyed in this study and because of the small number, cell phone policies did not differ greatly. All professors that reported enforcement of a cell phone policy only reported giving verbal warnings, no professors reported ever confiscating a cell phone or any enforcement more strict than a verbal warning. Only one professor in the study reported not having a cell phone policy, and two reported having one but not enforcing it. In future research, it would be helpful to have a larger number of professors with a greater variation in cell phone policies.
The student survey did not include a question asking for the participant’s age, but this question could have been helpful because it would have allowed the researcher to compare age and tolerance of cell phones in class. Campbell (2006) found that younger participants made more positive assessments of cell phones in college classrooms and were more tolerant of cell phone use in class than older participants. If the surveys for this study had included a question asking the age of the participant, it may have revealed that it is not simply the status of professor that makes an individual less tolerant of cell phones in college classrooms, but their age.
There was a problem with student participants taking the online survey without having a professor who was participating in the study, even though there was restrictions set in the SONA System so that students could only sign up for the study if they had a class with a professor who was participating. Due to this problem, 12 student participants had to be excluded from questions that asked about their professor’s cell phone policy because the researcher had no professor responses to compare them to. It is suspected that this problem was due to diffusion of treatment, which is when participants talk to each other about a study. The participants could have given their friends the web address to the online student survey, which would explain how students who were not in classes with professors who were participating got the web address. However, it could also have been due to a problem with how the restrictions on the study were set in the SONA System.
Further research on this topic could be beneficial to professor’s who want to reduce the amount of student cell phone use in their classes. The popularity of cell phones in today’s society has led to an increase in cell phone use in the classroom. In this study, out of 189 student participants, only two did not own a cell phone. Of the participants who owned a cell phone, only four said they do not usually take their cell phone with them to class. Sixty-nine percent of student participants reported having used their cell phones for text messaging or other purposes during class. These numbers suggest that more effective ways to control student cell phone use in class are needed. The results of this study show that a professor enforcing a cell phone policy with verbal warnings does have a significant effect on reducing student cell phone use in class; however, there is still a lot of other research that can be done on this issue.
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2. Gender (circle one): Male Female
3. Year of College (circle one): 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th or more
4. Do you have a cell phone? Yes No
5. Do you usually take your cell phone with you to class? Yes No
6. Where do you normally keep your cell phone when you are in class?
a. At home or in your car
b. In your backpack or purse
c. In your pocket
d. On your desk
e. In your lap
Other (please explain):___________
7. How often do you use your cell phone for text messaging during classes?
a. Almost every class
b. 2-3 classes a day
c. 1 class a day
2-3 classes a week
d. 1 class a week
8. Has your cell phone ever rang in class?
9. Have you ever left class to answer a phone call?
Please answer the following questions for only the class that you are taking this survey for:
10. Is there a cell phone policy included in the syllabus for this course?
c. Don’t know
11. Do you think your professor enforces the cell phone policy if he/she has one?
12. How often do you use your cell phone in this class?
a. Almost every class
b. 2 classes a week
c. 1 class a week
13. How much do you use your cell phone in this class compared to your other classes?
a. I use it much more in this class than other classes
b. I use it more in this class than other classes
c. I use it the same amount as I do in other classes
d. I use it less in this class than other classes
e. I use it a lot less in this class than other classes
Please answer the following questions by filling in the blank or circling your response.
2. Do you include a written cell phone policy in your syllabus? Yes No
(If so, please attach a copy of your cell phone policy)
3. Do you enforce your cell phone policy?
If yes or sometimes, please explain:
4. If you catch a student using a cell phone or a cell phone rings in class what do you do about it?