New App Tracks, “Flips Off” Phones in Class

Earlier today I received this email at my workplace, the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University:

Are cell phones a distraction in your class?

If you’re like most educators today, you’ve probably noticed that attention is in short supply. Your lectures are frequently challenged by cell phone distractions and multitasking students, and you’re facing decreased participation, collaboration, and thoughtful discussion as a result. …  That’s why we created Flipd. Used by thousands of educators and students across North America, Flipd is a simple low-tech solution to a major high-tech problem.

Here’s how the app works: Teachers register their classes with the company, which sends a message to students to flip off their phones during lecture. (They can use them in case of emergencies, of course.) The application sends data to the teacher about any student that violates the rule and uses the phone. If a student used the phone for 15 minutes during class, that person’s data would appear on the teacher’s dashboard.

You can read all about the application by clicking here.

The application is meant to discourage use of smartphones in class and mitigate that distraction.

I appreciate what this application is trying to accomplish. I have been writing about digital classroom distractions for many years.  Here’s an essay titled Distractions in the Wireless Classroom,” published in 2007 in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  I prophesied, “As more and more classrooms go wireless, technology warnings on syllabi soon will be as standard as the ones about cheating (which laptops also facilitate).”

Well, that certainly came true.

Distraction is so bad in some classes that professors make their students sign a legal document promising not to use smartphones during lecture. Maybe they need Flipd.

In my media ethics class at ISU’s Greenlee School, I don’t restrict cell phone use but consign several rows of seats in the back of the class so that students can text to their hearts’ content. No, I haven’t given up. Some students are addicted to their phones, and they need to learn a lesson–not about ethics but technology.

Typically students in those texting back rows do poorly on exams. After the midterm, they usually complain about grades. I use those occasions for a “teaching moment” and explain the high cost of distraction (and tuition). Most then stop using their phones independently.

The logic is simple. At the workplace, bosses won’t be using Flipd or signing contracts demanding employees not use smartphones during business hours. The best way to eliminate distractions is to understand the consequences of them.

That’s what Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine does in Chapter Five about use of technology at school.




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