Empowering Students to Deal With Smartphone Distraction in the Classroom: Phone Free Class Day Extra Credit

In my last post, I talked about smartphone distraction. I provided an activity I did last semester in my social media class. That activity was aimed at building a discussion about some of the concerns that social commentators, health care professionals, and former employees of tech companies have raised regarding the negative side of smartphones and social media. In this follow up post, I will share an extra credit opportunity I created to empower students to choose to not use their smartphones during class.

Background:

I came up with the idea for this opportunity last semester after having conversations with a few students around the topics discussed in the previous post mentioned above. In short, I asked them whether they would voluntarily give up their phone during class time. They said yes.  In fact, it would be a huge relief. But, they’d prefer an incentive, of course. Extra credit is always nice, they pointed out.

I realized, that some students would welcome an opportunity to remove themselves from the temptation of their smartphone. It would be a mini vacation from their otherwise tethered lives. One student told me that she really hoped I did something because it would give her a reason to put her phone away.

Here’s the idea.

Students would have the opportunity to give up their smartphones at the start of class for the opportunity to earn extra credit.

I decided to test pilot the concept in 1 class this semester. Not soon after I began implementing this idea, a friend shared an article on Facebook with the exact same concept. The article, by Pete Burkholder, Ph.D.provides an in-depth look at the concept and his results. I encourage you to check it out as it offers a more thorough analysis of results than I will describe below. Below, I’ll explain how I set my class up and the results thus far. You might find it helpful to see two slightly different set ups to same concept.

How it Works: Phone Free Class Days

Students can earn up to 10% extra credit on the final project. The final project is worth 21% of their final grade.

To earn the extra credit, students put their smartphones down on a side table in class for the duration of the class. For every 10 classes they do this in, they earn 5% added to the final project. They can do it for up to 20 classes, or 10% . There are 15 weeks in our semester here at Shepherd. We meet 28 times.

I chose 20 days as the max because I don’t start the opportunity until the second week of class, because of possible snow days and because we have a few lab days where I have a flexible attendance policy.

I like the concept of students having to reach a threshold before getting extra credit because it makes it easier on me to manage. I do not have to deal with incremental points and counting up how often a student did or did not participate.

I keep track of the students’ participation in a simple, easy-to-manage way.

I created little tokens (cut out pieces of paper with a little info on it) that I give to each student each day he/she participates. While the students’ phones are up on the side table, I place one token on top of their phone. The students collect the token. At the end of the semester, if they got 10 tokens they turn in those to me. If they got 20, they turn them in in 2 separate bathes by way of paperclips. This makes it quick and easy for me to grade. And, it places the onus on the students to keep track of their tokens rather than me having to count each day who did what.

Below, I’ve posted the simple document I created. You can print as many as you need. You’ll see that there is space for students to write their name. I initialed each token before giving it out to prevent duplicators (though, I’m sure a motivated student could get around my fairly generic handwriting. That may be a concern in a larger class. But, it is not something I’m worried about in my setting).

 

Results / reaction:

I’ve been running this extra credit opportunity for 5 and 1/2 weeks. On average, about half of the class participates each class period. It is the same students each time. A few times, students told me they couldn’t participate on a specific date because of the need to be available due to things like family emergencies.

A few students told me that they would like to participate, but needed to be accessible by family for personal reasons. A few others, simply chose not to participate for their own reasons.

In sum, the ‘opt in’ nature of this opportunity may advantage those who are the most motivated to start (and who do not need access to their phones for specific reasons, as mentioned above). So, it may not help some students who might most benefit from the opportunity.

I was careful not to push this onto students. I told them basically that this was an opportunity and it was entirely up to them. No judgments.

I may have higher results with some of those hold outs if I pushed it. But, that isn’t my goal. My goal is to empower students to make a choice that that they think will benefit them.

Final Thoughts:

It probably seems odd to you that a guy who writes a blog about social media education would ever reward his students for putting away their smartphones. Isn’t the concept antithetical to everything this blog is about? Aren’t I taking my class back into the dark ages? I don’t see it that way. I’ve always encouraged students to use their smartphones or computers to enhance their education in my classes. For example, I’ve encouraged students to look up information and bring it into the class discussion. Smartphones are a tool. Social media is a tool.

These things are not inherently good or bad, in my opinion. It is how we choose to use them, or how we allow ourselves to use them, that affects our lives. We should respect, understand, and appreciate the tools in our lives. A television is an amazing tool for learning and entertainment. It doesn’t mean we should have it on all the time, especially when we’re trying to focus on something specific. I’d rather have my students present in my class and learning, so they can go out and use these tools in ways that enrich their lives and help them achieve their goals.

I’ve seen a lot of posts online recently by professors who are struggling with the distractions that smartphones are bringing to the education setting.  I’ve seen other posts about smartphone detoxes, and lots of great discussion about bringing self awareness to our relationship with technology. There are many ways to try to address concerns if you feel that any tool is getting in the way of education. I have found that the smartphone extra credit opportunity I am providing this semester is a nice balance in that it gives the students the power to make the call. I am hopeful that those who are participating will see the benefits it may bring to their enjoyment of being present in the classroom.

In closing, I plan to run this same extra credit opportunity in a few more classes next semester. If students continue to participate, then I will continue to offer it.

Don’t forget to see the token sheet below.

– Cheers!
Matt

Above photo is creative commons.

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