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Cell Phones in Class


Documentary participants also noticed that while cell phones enabled certain literacies, those same literacies could be unwelcome in specific locations, depending on the kinds of people and events with which they were engaged. As the above video shows, when asked if they had used a phone in class, a number of respondents suggested that they use their phone for activities not related to class work or discussion (PDF transcript here). Some certainly felt guilt about doing so, but also noted that they only chose to use their cell phones when the class material failed to be sufficiently engaging. Others recognized that cell phone use could be encouraged by some professors. Cell phones allow students to access readings when they do not have a larger computer, laptop, or tablet on hand. Cell phones can also permit students to look up information in an ad hoc way—helping the class identify key terms or sources that may be useful for discussion. One participant also referenced using his cell phone to take pictures of slides and record lectures, certainly an activity that many educators would welcome.

Less welcome of an activity, however, was the use of cell phones to facilitate cheating (PDF transcript here). The video on the right shows that respondents in the documentary were mixed about this question, as some found that students likely used cell phones to cheat, though had not witnessed it directly, and others found it unlikely. Responses to this question were largely negative, though, as some suspected a more metaphorical connection to cheating (“cheating out of being there”) and others explained that their personal cell phone policy was “old fashioned,” as class time should be focused on the pre-planned interactions designed by the instructor. Perhaps more subtle in these responses was the implication that certain forms of literacy are unwarranted or unwelcome in certain groupings of actants, as the power or agency of a student-with-a-cell phone could engender “dishonest” communication practices.