The halls of Richard Stockton College and Atlantic Cape Community College are filled with students texting. They text in the cafeteria, in lounge areas and even in class.
“Yes, I do,” admitted Ariana Rosenberg, of Egg Harbor Township, who reported multiple texts from just one class at Atlantic Cape. “But it depends on the class.”
A new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford found that texting distracts students from class and affects their ability to learn. They reported that, on average, students in the study viewed 2.6 texts and sent 2.4 texts per class.
More than a dozen students interviewed at the local colleges said that number actually sounded low. All of them admitted to texting in class and going on Facebook. But all also qualified their texting by saying they don’t do it in every class, and the professor has some influence over that decision.
Neither Stockton nor Atlantic Cape have an official policy on texting or the use of smartphones or other technology in class, leaving it up to individual professors, college officials said. Some professors will include a “classroom etiquette” message in the course outline that discourages use of smartphones.
“I try to be humorous about it,” Stockton associate professor of history Michelle McDonald said. “But I will employ that time-honored tradition of public shaming.”
She said most of her classes have 25 students or fewer, so it can be pretty obvious if someone is texting. Some have tried the “have to use the restroom” excuse to leave class, pulling their phone out of their pocket as they leave.
Students said they typically don’t text in a class that is interesting, requires them to actively participate, or is difficult and requires concentration. But in a large lecture class of more than 100 students, where it likely won’t be noticed, texting is common. Students said they typically text friends about plans to meet. They said women text more than men because women converse while men just transmit information.
“I’ll text someone, ‘Let’s meet for lunch’ and they’ll text back, ‘Yes’ and that’s it,” said Richard Brown, a Stockton sophomore from Florence, Burlington County. “Girls want more details.”
Students also said professors can set the tone for texting by making it clear they don’t like it. If the professor seems to be ignoring students who text, it will encourage others.
Some professors use technology in their classrooms and said they may not be able to tell if a student is texting or doing research. Javier Sanchez teaches Spanish at Stockton and said he has put information online that students can access with their phones.
“I might not be able to tell if they are texting or looking up the material for class,” he said. “I’ve had students find information online while we are having a discussion. So unless it really is disrupting the classroom dynamic, I probably won’t say anything.”
Stockton Literature professor Adeline Koh uses Twitter in class. For one assignment, students watched and live-tweeted the movies “Eat, Pray, Love,” and “Cowboys in Paradise” and interviewed “Cowboys” director, Amit Virmani, over three class periods. After the Twitter discussion, students wrote a short paper that referenced the Twitter discussion and explained how the films or interview related to concepts they learned learned in class.
The University of Pittsburgh study concluded that university bans on texting would likely be ineffective since instructors are using smartphones and other technology in their lessons. But, they said, students should be aware that texting does affect their attention in class, and even just a momentary distraction can affect their ability to retain what is being taught.
Stockton’s Sanchez noted that class participation is part of his students’ grades, something they seem to forget.
“If someone is not participating and is just sitting in the back texting, that will affect their final grade,” he said.
Professors said a major concern is the potential ease of texting answers on a test, so they are vigilant about restricting phone access during exams. But most said they are also trying to teach students respect and professional behavior — they likely won’t be allowed to text on a job.
Brown said one of his professors told students if they text during class, he will ask them to leave.
“He told us good luck finding a job where you can do that,” he said.
Contact Diane D’Amico: