It was the type of text message nobody ever wants to receive.
Professor Kimberly Overdevest was giving a lecture in her Art History class when it happened. In the back of the dark classroom, a light illuminated a girl’s face. She was texting in class, something Overdevest has tried to get her students to realize texting is disruptive and disrespectful. But this time, instead of quietly slipping her phone back into her bag or under the desk, the student rushed out of the classroom and sobbed out in the hallway. Alarmed, Overdevest followed her and held her while she cried. The text was about a death in the family.
“Another student last year found out her sister had died while she was in class,” Overdevest said. That message also came via text.
Not all texts are about something serious, however.
“I tell my students to let me know if they are expecting an important text,” Overdevest said. “Most of the time it’s not an emergency. It’s about respect. In my classroom the tables are set up with two students per desk.”
She explained that this made it much more distracting for a student sitting next to a texting addict.
“I don’t make fools of my students,” Overdevest said. “I bend quietly over and ask them to leave. I’ve only had to do that twice.”
When asked if students still tried to get away with texting in her class, Overdevest said they did and then added, “I love the way students take things to create a bunker around their area to hide texting. I tell them, ‘There cannot be something that interesting in your crotch that you have to look at for more than 30 seconds.’”
Overdevest didn’t start enforcing her no-texting policy until this semester.
“I personally don’t have anything against texting,”Overdevest said. “There is a time and a place. I’m being paid to do a job. Being distracted (by students texting) could affect my performance. They deserve my best.”
Joy McNabb teaches Children’s Literature and says that since she’s had her new texting policy, texting in her class has gone down.
“The syllabus is their first warning,” McNabb in a phone interview. “I warned them the first day of class.”
McNabb’s new cell phone policy may seem strict to some students. If she catches a student texting, she doesn’t make a scene or grab their phone. She silently marks points off their participation grade.
“Two weeks ago I started to see a couple of kids (texting) in class. I actually read the policy in class. They said ‘So, you’ve been taking off 30 points every time you see us texting?’ There’s no texting anymore.”
Someone who takes a very different approach to texting in his class is Philosophy Professor Daniel Jesse.
“The reality is that students will text in class,” Jesse said. “And when we ban it, students will not stop texting but try to come up with more creative ways to skirt the prohibition … I would rather have the students be honest and practice integrity than try to fool me or lie to me.”
Jesse has a very relaxed policy, but he still has one.
“I think that if you send a text or two and you aren’t distracting others, then it’s okay,” Jesse said. “But if you are sitting there all day and distracting others, then that’s not okay.”
All the teachers interviewed agreed that texting technology is here to stay, but Jesse took the idea a step farther.
“I think higher education professionals are behind the times with technology and the way students interact with it,” Jesse said. “I’m a younger professor and I’ve seen the movement and been part of it.” He compared the age of texting to using computers.
“A lot of teachers want to get rid of it, just like when laptops came out. Now it’s odd if students don’t have their laptops open in class.”
Talking about some studies that he has read lately, Jesse said, “Teens and young adults are no longer doodling, they text or look up Facebook instead. We all understand what doodling does for the mind, it keeps the mind clear, it’s not a scourge. Texting can be the same. Most of the kids that send occasional texts aren’t actually texting anything important. They are just mindlessly doing something. I’ve never seen a teacher throw a student out of class for doodling.
“In fact,” Jesse said, “some of the kids that occasionally send text messages are the most engaged in the class. They will text a little, then jump right in and comment. But if they sit in the back and text the whole time and are obviously not paying any attention, then I mark them absent. It’s a double-edged sword.”
He said that some students find the policy weird, and abuse the privilege of texting in his class at first, before falling into line and being a little more moderate with their messaging.
“I think it’s really annoying,” said GRCC student Laurie Marciniak, speaking of other students who text in her classes. “That might make me sound really pretentious, but we are in college and we are paying for our time. It’s annoying when people aren’t paying attention. And you can hear their phones even when they are on vibrate, it’s noticeable. In a class where it’s a straight lecture, it’s distracting. You don’t hear information that’s vital to your grade.”
Mallory Chrisman agreed.
“It’s fine in the classes where you are allowed to do your own thing. But it’s not okay while teachers are lecturing. It’s not respectful.”
Another trend that troubles professors about texting, is its apparently addictive nature.
“Some of these kids are addicted,” Joy McNabb said.
“It’s an addiction for some people,” said Professor Kimberly Overdevest. “They are addicted to constant communication. Apparently there are professors who are pulling ‘breaking phone’ pranks on the first day of classes to emphasize how they don’t want texting in class. There is another one where the professor takes the phone from the student, gets a sledge hammer, breaks it in front of the class, and then after the students are horrified, he tells them that the texting student was an ‘actor’, and that they were playing a prank. But then he said that he is serious about texting in class. This is hilarious but a bit disturbing, yet I bet it gets the point across!”
When asked if she was tempted to pull a similar prank at the beginning of next semester, Overdevest jokingly said that she had thought about it.