I came across an infographic the other day about university students using cellphones. I won’t embed it, but you can find it HERE. I don’t like infographics because they are basically a list of statistics/facts that are presented without context leaving the reader to make their own inferences/conclusion about what they mean. As a university educator, I didn’t find any of the data that revealing. The fact is that most students use a smartphone and most of them use it all the time. My guess is that if someone were to survey just about any segment of society they would find similar results: business people use cellphones every day, medical professionals use cellphones every day, lawyers use cellphones every day, etc.
I guess that some people might be upset about students using their smartphones in class especially that they are texting in class, but I have a different take on it. First off, I encourage my students to use their smartphones in class; after all they are great resources. I have my students look up words in the dictionary; I have them consult Google/Wikipedia. That’s easy to understand, but what most people would find strange is that I don’t have a problem with my students texting in class.
I guess it is because I have a little bit different take on the purpose of a liberal arts education. The truth of the matter is that few of my students are going to be historians, economists or use literature in a meaningful way. Most of them are going to be white-collar workers in an industry that they know very little about when they start. What a liberal arts education teaches students (and what employers expect from graduates) is the ability to work independently without constant supervision, to be able to handle abstract, hard to understand information. That they can negotiate a bureaucracy; that they have time management and multitasking skills, etc. A student has to be able to do all of these things in order to graduate and if they can do these things, they will be a successful white-collar worker.
How does this relate to texting? Well, I imagine that my students will find themselves in business meetings where they need to pay attention, be actively engaged in the meeting and still be able to receive/reply to texts from clients/customers at the same time. There is a real art to being able to do that and I think it is better for students to learn it on campus instead of at work when it is mission critical. So I don’t mind if my students text in class provided that they are still engaged in the class, still doing their pair/group work, turning in their assignments and still learning what they need to know for the exam. In other words, they can text in class as long as they are getting their work done.