Smartphones vs. smart profs

Devices occupy so much of student’s time, teachers struggle to catch the attention of their students

In the three years that Sheryl MacDonald has taught at George Brown College (GBC) she has noticed many students give in to the temptation of their phones.

Although she believes that cellphones can be useful tools for class assignments, interactive quizzes and research in real time, the business professor said their use in class is for the most part “a complete distraction” for students. 

“When students are on in their phones, they are not focused on in-class lectures,” said MacDonald. “The mind can only hold one thought at a time.” 

MacDonald said that one of the consequences of this behaviour is a drop in grades.

According to a 2016 Catalyst Canada survey, three out of four Canadians now own a smartphone. This represents a growth of 38 per cent compared to the same survey in 2014. 
Manvi Shiv said she regularly leaves her cellphone in her bag during the class. The second-year student believes that they should be completely avoided in class, unless it’s an emergency.  

She also considers it just plain rude to use your phone when a professor is teaching. 

“If we don’t pay attention, we’re not respecting them,” said Shiv.

Jessica Dinicolantonio, a human resources student, highlighted that social media can be a particularly distracting problem.  
“How can a student focus when their phones are beeping from Facebook notifications or tags on Instagram?” she asks.
But when asked how often she has used her smartphone in class, her answer goes in the opposite direction. 
“I use my cellphone pretty often in class to check my messages as well as social media”, Dinicolantonio confesses. 
Rick Henry, a business professor at GBC, also worries that students don’t pay attention in his classes. But he usually allows students to use their smartphones.
“If I’m talking about a specific concept or idea and students don’t understand, they can also Google the term on their cellphone to get immediate clarification,” he said. 
Henry added that smartphones can help students who have English as a second language translate words in class that they don’t understand.
George Brown’s Code of Student Conduct has a policy that doesn’t allow photography or video in class without permission. However, there’s nothing directly about the use of mobile devices in class for other purposes. 
The policy states that “students will take responsibility for their own academic achievement, demonstrate their commitment to their own goal of educational advancement by attending class, completing assigned work, and complying with copyright legislation.” 

Smartphones vs. smart profs