In a meeting today, several faculty complained that students were spending time in class on their smartphones doing things unrelated to course activities–updating Facebook, sending texts, replying to unimportant email. My question was, why do you allow them to use their devices in class? Time in class is precious, and my solution to student distraction is to create an Electronic Etiquette policy for my technical communication course. On the course syllabus, along with the schedule of readings and assignments and my attendance policy, I include the following statement:
Electronic Etiquette: While you are in class, you must refrain from using your laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other device to engage with social media, such as Facebook or IM.
The purpose of the policy is clear. Since we are focusing on communication, we need to recognize how electronic devices distract us during face-to-face communication situations, such as the classroom. I am always surprised how well this policy works, since all I am basically doing is making my expectations clear and asking them to abide by them. When I do see a student engaging in poor electronic etiquette, I remind him or her of the policy, and I usually receive a quick apology and an end to the offending behavior.
Perhaps the willingness of my students to follow this rule is part of what the New York Times author Alex Williams described in the article “The Emily Posts of the Digital Age.” There is a hunger out there for guidance and advice for everything from how to behave at a nude beach to the proper way to set a dinner table:
“But perhaps the fastest-growing area of social advice — one that has spawned not just videos but also Web sites, blogs and books — is the Internet itself, and the proper displays of what’s been termed “netiquette.” There are YouTube videos on using emoticons in business e-mails, being discreet when posting on someone’s Facebook wall, limiting baby photos on Instagram, retweeting too many Twitter messages and juggling multiple online chats.”
Your mother told you not to speak with your mouth full. She also wouldn’t want to you to Tweet during class.