When was the last time you went to class without your smartphone? I bet it’s been a while, if you can remember doing so at all.
Yes, you may need your phone for safety or even in-class research. But even if it doesn’t distract you from the lesson at hand, buzzes and blue light catch ears and eyes. It’s not fair of you to let your device get in the way of others’ learning.
I’m not going to tell you to leave all your devices at home. You should, however, follow these steps to keep tech from getting in the way of yours and others’ education:
- Plan for downtime.
No matter the instructor or class size, there will be periods when you aren’t actively learning. Professors get stuck in traffic. Group discussions get done early.
In those moments, what do you do? You pull out your phone. The moment you do that, you sweep class-related ideas out of your working memory. Once class starts or resumes, your brain has to forget about whatever Instagram images or Buzzfeed articles you were looking at, which it probably finds far more engaging than ancient philosophy texts.
Have a plan for downtime. Keep a book of puzzles in your backpack. Not only will they keep you occupied, but they might actually help you stay focused when it counts. Brain teasers are actually gaining recognition as an alternative ADHD treatment because they build working memory.
- Hold yourself accountable.
You’re an adult. Nobody is going to take away your phone just because you were using it when you shouldn’t have been. Like it or not, it’s on you to hold yourself accountable.
Start small: Get an app that discourages you from overusing your phone. Some merely track your usage, while others let you lock yourself out during certain times or past certain usage thresholds. Gamified apps stimulate the reward-seeking part of your brain, which may be to blame for your habit.
What if apps aren’t enough? Set up a system of rewards and consequences. Perhaps if you go all week without using your phone in class, you’ll buy yourself a pizza for dinner Friday. If you catch yourself with your phone out more than once per class period, though, maybe you owe yourself extra crunches at the rec center.
3. Ask before you access.
What if you have a legitimate reason to haul out your phone in class? You might want to look up a term the professor threw out. If you’re expecting an important call, you may need to watch it for the right number.
Whenever possible, get permission from the people sitting next to you. The best time to do this is before class starts. Everyone realizes that emergencies happen; as long as you’re courteous about it, they shouldn’t mind you sending a text.
If it’s an in-class need, exhaust your other resources first. Check your textbook’s glossary for the concept or term. If can’t find it, quietly ask to look it up online. If appropriate, raise your hand to share the information. Chances are, others are wondering the same thing.
4. Give gentle reminders.
Even if you observe smartphone etiquette, students around you might not. If their device use is distracting you, don’t create an even bigger distraction. Shouting or tossing something at them is a surefire way to disrupt the whole class.
What should you do instead? First try a silent cue. If your phone is on your desk, catch the other student’s eye while you put it in your pocket or bag. Only if that doesn’t work should you nudge or quietly ask him or her to put it away.
The key is to spread “social antibodies.” Catch the student who was on his or her phone after class. Don’t make a scene, but do make clear that you think it’s poor manners to use tech during a lecture.
However exciting a new app or text might be, it can wait until after class. In those rare cases when it can’t, give nearby students a heads up. And if someone else’s smartphone use is distracting you, say something quietly and respectfully. It’s that easy.