by Andrea Noble, Online Course Support Assistant, Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning (CIEL), VIU

cell phone“To be physically alone is still relatively easy, but many of us struggle daily to turn off e-mail, computers, or cell phones. For many of us, going to concerts, lectures, the movies, or social activities provided time to be disconnected from other demands. Our students, however, find requests not to text during these activities strange, annoying, and downright silly.” (Bowen, 2012, p. 28)

When I first began teaching, I was insulted by students using cell phones in the classroom. Obviously, they were not paying attend to my lesson. I assumed the students were showing arrogance and disrespect. “In recent years, faculty have seen an increase in latecomers, sleepers, cell phone addicts, and downright disruptive students in their courses. Classroom incivility is the disruptive behavior that occurs in higher education learning environments at an alarming rate. Incivility is often a reciprocal process; both students and faculty may contribute to a climate of disrespect and disregards for the learning process.” (Frey, 2009, p.2)

However, after attending a professional development day at BCIT for part-time instructors, I was challenged to think differently about mobile devices. The speaker asked us to consider the positive use of cell phones, laptops, and other technical devices in the classroom. Could I guarantee that my students were goofing off? Or were they looking up websites related to the course material? Perhaps cell phones were enhancing their learning?

At first, I was skeptical. I wanted to ban cell phone usage. However, I decided to open my mind to the possibility that students were capable of making good choices. After all, I teach adults. Thinking back to my own school, I constantly doodled while sitting in lectures. Some professors assumed I wasn’t paying attention, but doodling helped me concentrate. “Distractions are as old as the ages — we’ve just progressed from daydreaming and passing notes.” (Robledo, 2012, p. 1)

I decided to experiment with phones in the classroom. At the beginning of the next course, I did not provide any cell phone rules. I simply never talked about the use of cell phones. Instead, I started listening and observing. Many students did look down and tap away at their phones, seemingly uninterested in the lesson. However, I stopped myself from scolding them, and to my surprise, some students raised their hands to tell me about a link they found. Wow. While not all students use cell phones for good use, I noticed that many were using them to aid their learning. In fact, they were excited to contribute new material to the class.

Of course this is a controversial issue. There are many articles and studies that argue stricter rules regarding technological devices in the classroom. However, it’s good to think about how we can embrace the cell phone and better use it to enhance learning.


  • Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Frey, K.A. (2009). Understanding Incivility in the College Classroom. Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, 1 – 14.
  • Robledo, S.J. (2012). Mobile Devices for Learning: What You Need to Know. The George Lucas Educational Foundation Retrieved from: