A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my trials with disengaged students this semester. It turns out that the threats worked at least to some degree with one of the groups. But it doesn't seem to have done anything with the other. Last night we were watching a video, and it looked like there were 4 flashlights coming from that group's table, beaming up in the air reminiscent of the twin towers memorial in NYC on the anniversary.
Finally I whipped out my blackberry, held it up on the air, danced around, and made a slashing motion across my neck. (Yes, I realize this was taking a bold step from my usual "weird" to "crazy.") The lights disappeared. About 10 minutes later, they were back. I gave the group a dirty look and shook my head. One of the students got up, came over to my table, asked me what was wrong! I said I was not sure what was up with the group's constantly texting. She said, she got a text from some club she is in, needing to reschedule a meeting. She didn't know about the others, but it wasn't distracting. I said, it is distracting to me. She went back to her table. After the break, during the group work, I made the rounds. The other three groups have all made progress on the big project and/or had questions about certain aspects. This group had almost nothing done, and they didn't seem to be doing much. The demeanor of the various individuals: one was absent, the remainder were nervous, smug, or disinterested. Only one was focused and serious.
At this point, I will let them sink. They will do a shitty job on their presentation, who cares. That happens sometimes. Or else they will get their acts together at the last minute, even if it is only the serious student and one of the other four stepping up. That happens sometimes as well. But the smart phone issue raises the more important question. If it was K-12 there are oppressive strategies (like confiscating them) that could be utilized but among adults (even immature ones), what can be done? Is our society so addicted to the things that the answer is nothing?
I ask myself how to bring them into a class in a productive way, if they are just a reality that must be accommodated. Certainly some students use them productively, to schedule class project related meetings with each other, to look up information on the fly in class that is relevant to class. But how to deal with students who don't seem to appreciate that there are standards of behavior for personal electronic communication that should be respected -- such as leaving the room to use the damn things? Or has the new norm become using them whenever, however, why ever, F You -- it's not rude, it is acceptable and even justified? "LOL" from your suite mate on facebook takes precedence over class or FTF peers?
Finally, if my "crazy" continues to be ineffective, how do I learn to accept it? By counting the days until the end of class, while reminding myself of the justice aspect, the negative reinforcement, the penalty -- a bad grade? Bob says they won't care, and maybe are secretly hoping -- even if they are not aware of it -- to fail and be able to delay college graduation for a semester.
Problem is: It is very hard to ignore the flashlight beams, the eyes downcast as the fingers tap away, leading to blank faces* when it is that group's turn to share. Sometimes the distraction is so great, the energy emitted by the devices so powerful that it erases my mind.
* Some would say they can multitask, but the evidence proves otherwise.