Cell Phones: Do They Affect the Classroom?

Undoubtedly the world has changed since the introduction of cell phones. It is now possible to retain a level of connectedness with those thousands of miles away that was likely unfathomable by previous generations. There are now policies found in classroom syllabi that explicitly forbid the use of cell phones during class. And yet, despite this new, radical technology, student behavior inside of the classroom has changed very little over time.

One difference that Dr. Andres Guerra, a professor in the Civil Engineering department since 2006, has seen is that “students are less likely to focus for a long period of time because they want to grab their cell phone.”

In class, however, the students that are likely to be on their phones are the same type of students that would have spent the class period talking to their peers or zoning out in previous generations. Students will always find a way to distract themselves during class – cell phones are just the latest in the evolution of distractions.

For Guerra, it is important that the professors encourage students to not use their phones by facilitating engaging learning environments. He actively changes the structure of his class time – using in-class experiments, posing questions directly to students, favoring white boards over power points.

Dr. Ed Cecil, a professor in the Physics Department since 1976, echoed similar sentiments. Since the physics curriculum is more lab-based than most engineering disciplines, students do not have time to be on their phones.

A common trait among students over time has been their willingness to work hard. Despite new technology, students are still willing to put in long hours required to get their work done.

According to Dr. Cecil, his fellow classmates at the University of Maryland in the mid-1960s were very similar in behavior and drive to those he teaches now. “My classmates were all really hard working and the professors expected hard work of us and in turn we responded [as students do today],” he said.

Dr. Vaughn Griffiths, a professor in the Civil Engineering Department since 1994, has seen no change in the grades received by hard working students. For him, students are as attentive as always and seek to learn more to further their education.

“Students at this level know how to study and pass exams,” Dr. Griffiths said. “If people are not concentrating [because of cell phones], I have not noticed the quality of work, or exam scores, going down.”

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