Text Messaging & Classroom Protocol

Via Instapundit, an interesting report from Inside HigherEd that talks about an environment that every student is familiar with.

Some professors threaten to confiscate students’ cell phones if they go off during class. Laurence Thomas has his own approach to classroom distractions. If the philosopher at Syracuse University catches a student sending text messages or reading a newspaper in class, he’ll end the class on the spot and walk out. It doesn’t matter if there is but one texter in a large lecture of hundreds of students. If you text, he will leave.

Last week, when a student in a large lecture — in the front row no less — sent a text message, Thomas followed through on his threat (as he had done just a few days earlier). And he then sent the university’s chancellor, his dean, and all of the students an e-mail message explaining his actions and his frustration at the “brazen” disrespect he had received in class. In the e-mail, he noted that the student who sent the text message is Cuban, and that last year, two Latino students had started to play tic-tac-toe during his class.

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Now, I have voluntarily relocated in a class to get away from incessant text-messaging, so I can understand the professor’s perspective. But, as the article goes on to point out, text-messaging is today’s version of note-passing; students today live in a persistent, ubiquitous information environment where instant communication with other parties is the rule rather than the exception.

In a time when e-mail is snail-mail, where land-line telephony does not exist, and where the “dead-tree” media doesn’t have so much as a toe-hold in the media market share game, perhaps it’s time for the professors to quit taking such offence at what is essentially now human nature.

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7 Responses to “Text Messaging & Classroom Protocol”


  1. 1 Dan April 3, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Venor Vinge has an eve-of-the-Singularity scene like this set in a future classroom, where students have adapted wearable technology (contacts and corneal implants with HUD capabilities, constantly wired to the Web), giving them what amounts to virtual telepathy, and the teacher has to keep them on topic and honest. Very interesting idea.

    As for human nature… granted. But I’ve found that if you want to keep a bunch of people’s attention, it helps if you take what you’ve got to say seriously, which also means demanding that they take it seriously too — on pain of humiliation, if necessary. These profs take it too far, but I’ve stopped silent and waited until people who were talking while I was talking wake up and realize the whole room is staring at them.

    Tends to work.

  2. 2 Agricola April 3, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    In response to your comment, and thanks, by the way, for stopping by, I have seen a professor demand silence from the class. And he got it for the rest of the semester after just one incident. But the vast majority of the professors seem to take a very laissez-faire attitude; as long as the entire class is not disturbed, anything goes. In some classes, students are almost continuously getting up, leaving the room, coming back in, etc. That is more disturbing to me than some guy setting up his next basketball game via text-message. It’s almost as if they are afraid to demand respect, attention, and a modicum of self-discipline from the students, who are, by their very nature, testing the limits to every new thing they encounter. By indulging them, the profs perpetuate the behavior, and likely encourage further testing of unknown limits. I like your approach, have seen it work, but…..

  3. 3 annabelle May 11, 2008 at 11:08 am

    After researching other blogs on texting and doing more research on texting in class, I came up with an alternative on my blog lifewithmycomptuer.com – to help work digital messaging successfully into the classroom. Of course it will not stop those who would text for socialization only, but it might offer students another way to communicate in class that they enjoy, for example listening to podcasts for music, in education to hear lectures and course updates. As a professor I tried demanding no cell phones and most of the time was successful, then I became fascinated with the idea of using text messaging in the classroom. Not to mention less frustration for the professors and teachers.

    • 4 Dr. Stan October 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm

      Way to go. Professors who get into a war with their students over this stuff risk alienating their students, or (at best) exascerbating a power differential that gets in the way of estyablishing an atmosphere of mutual respect and learning (at least at the college level). and that’s just sad. Ignoring it is a perfectly valid, adult approach (unless it is disruptive or there is cheating going on, which is never to be tolerated, of course). Getting out in front of your students (outsmarting them, or joining them, as it were) is even better.

  4. 5 Joe McCorkell May 14, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate,no despotism can enslave. At home, a friend, abroad, an introduction, in solitude a solace and in society an ornament.It chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives at once grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage – Joseph Addison

    Incorrect your education leaves a lot to be desired if you are going to use quotes in your website please ensure they are correctly attributed.

    The above quote comes from a court case in Galway Ireland in 1816, almost 100 years after Addison’s death,don’t relay on the internet for information it is invariably incorrect.

  5. 6 Hershel July 31, 2013 at 1:58 pm

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    both educative and engaging, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head.
    The problem is something which not enough men and women are speaking
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“Life’s hard, son. It’s harder when you’re stupid.” — The Duke.

Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate,no despotism can enslave. At home, a friend, abroad, an introduction, in solitude a solace and in society an ornament.It chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives at once grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage. - Joseph Addison
The term informavore (also spelled informivore) characterizes an organism that consumes information. It is meant to be a description of human behavior in modern information society, in comparison to omnivore, as a description of humans consuming food. George A. Miller [1] coined the term in 1983 as an analogy to how organisms survive by consuming negative entropy (as suggested by Erwin Schrödinger [2]). Miller states, "Just as the body survives by ingesting negative entropy, so the mind survives by ingesting information. In a very general sense, all higher organisms are informavores." - Wikipedia

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