Friday, May 30, 2008

On cell phones

Cell phones have been in the news somewhat lately here in Utah, due to some high profile incidents with junior high and high school kids taking inappropriate pictures or recording fights. In addition, various individual schools or school districts have created their own policies to deal with the issue. One local high school dings student grades more points each time they are caught with electronic devices from phones to mp3 players. Some schools confiscate the electronic devices and either return them to a parent or do not give them back until the end of the school year. I'm not sure that I agree with taking someone's property or with lowering their class grade. Most schools have a citizenship grade that could be lowered which can keep someone from graduating just the same.

The problem with most of the solutions that ban phones or other devices from the classroom is that there is not only a lack of parental support, but parents often provide most of the justification as well as the funding for their kids' electronic devices. Students will use them anyway, so we might as well teach them to use their phones responsibly by the time they get to college or beyond.

Speaking of college, we had an interesting experience today in my testing center. Having said above that I don't agree with completely banning phones since people will use them anyway, cell phones are not allowed in the testing center. I think the reasons are obvious. I don't mind students texting in my class when I teach (their loss - this is college, folks), and I like being able look up something that I need when I'm in a class or meeting myself, but you don't use your mp3 player or phone during a test. (I do dislike it when I'm meeting one on one with someone, trying to teach them something that will help them pass their tests and they sit there texting, only half paying attention to what I'm saying. I'm giving you the answers to the test - pay attention! In the words of Yoda, "That is why you fail.")

So despite the no-cell-phone signs and the fact that a student in our lab was in the middle of a test, he answered his phone when it rang and walked out of the lab to talk on it. Now, I have to at least give him props for leaving so he wouldn't bother others with his talking, but that's about where it ends. The consultant in the lab told the student he couldn't come back to his test, since he left the room. I then got pulled into the situation with an IM from the consultant at the student's request to verify the policy, which I did. The student then wanted to come to my office and talk to me about it. What was weird is when he came into the office, there was no introduction, no hello, no "did the guy in the lab tell you what happened?", but an immediate attack. Sorry, but that's not a good way to start, especially when you're already in the hole.

I wasn't dealing with cheating, so I didn't really have much to say to him other than, "You answered your phone during a test - what did you expect?" The response and justification from the student, if you can call it that, was that the lab consultant should have stopped him when his phone rang and warned him if he left he wouldn't be able to complete his test. What? It's our fault now? The sign says no phones, and yet it's our fault for not telling him he can't leave to answer his phone? Of course, the story from the student and from the consultant about how long he was out in the hall talking didn't line up, so I have to believe my consultant that it wasn't just a lean out the door to say "I'll be right there," and pop back in before it even closed.

His issue that we didn't stop him from leaving could have some merit, I suppose; however, with the way our lab works we don't really care when people leave - only when they enter. Some people are just studying, others finish a test and walk out without saying anything, others check with us when they finish to make sure everything is set before they leave, while still others will quit in the middle of a test that they have found to be too difficult for them. (Actually studying before a test is an entirely different subject that deserves its own post.) But if you're taking a test and you leave, doesn't that mean you're done with it?

Take some responsibility for your actions. Turn the phone off (not vibrate), and let voice mail handle it - that's why voice mail is included on every cell phone plan.

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