At a recent academic conference, I attended a plenary session on active learning. While spouting the virtues of
student engagement, the presenter seemed to be admonishing cellphone use in class, labelling it as a sign of
distracted and bored learners.
I was feeling uncomfortable in the second row from the front because I was using my phone to take pictures, livetweet the lecture and engage with other conference attendees on social media. I wondered, “Is he talking about
me?” However, not only was I paying attention, but I was also completely engaged in and interacting with his
content in a self-directed way. If that’s not active learning, I don’t know what is.
In my own classes, I do not have a cell phone policy, and I generally encourage free use of devices of any kind.
However, many of my colleagues do not feel the same way and, in fact, discourage the use of phones in class. They
view them as a distraction rather than a supplement. It confuses me that these faculty members want their students
to be independent learners who engage with their content, yet they don’t want them to use devices (i.e., research
tools) during class. When do they expect students to engage with the content and research independently? After
class when they don’t have valuable access to the instructor?