ACPA/NASPA Joint Meeting: Student Cell Phone Use

The third session I attended today was entitled “Students and Cell Phones: Exploring Their Use and Crafting Our Response.” The presentation was an overview of preliminary research conducted by a doctoral candidate from Emory University. Her research is a qualitative analysis of traditional students’ use of wireless phones based on interviews, journals, and analysis of phone bills. While the sample size of the initial research was tiny (5 students), the results are interesting and the presentation was fantastic.

Given the tiny size of the sample, I am hesitant to delve into specifics on the results of the research. However, the findings are not terribly surprising and reflect the common uses of wireless phones as ubiquitous and useful communication tools. In fact, the presentation largely focused on how similar our own usage patterns are to our students’. Following the discussion of the research results, Molyneaux enumerated some concrete ideas for student affairs administrators:

  • Students may need education and mentoring in particular skills that their uses of wireless phones show they lack or possess in inadequate measures. Such skills may include scheduling, patience, immediacy of expectations, and reflection.
  • Parents, too, may need to be taught new skills or convinced to improve already-possessed skills such as the ability to sift through large volumes of data/conversations and letting one’s child handle problems on his or her own.

Discussion from and among attendees was also interesting.

  • Although one attendee emphasized the need to “meet [students] where they are,” another stressed that her students were adamant that administrators must not too actively pursue SMS or other use of wireless phones as students perceive it as too personal or “theirs;” compare with the same sentiments and issues surrounding Facebook.
  • An idea with significant potential (it’s unclear if this idea has actually been put into practice or is merely an idea) is to use e-mail distribution lists with an SMS gateway to send mass SMS messages to groups of students. I’m pretty sure this has been done as it’s too simple and cheap to not have been done already.
  • When the question of “Does your institution have a policy regarding student use of phones when in 1:1 meeting with administrators or faculty?” arose, one attendee shared that she makes it a point to leave the room when students answer their phones in these situations. Before leaving, she tells them that “I know this call is important so I’ll leave you alone” and when she returns in 5-10 minutes she not only makes sure they know that their appointment will end at the scheduled time but also works the incident into the educational process as appropriate (the classic “teachable moment”). A different attendee followed up with the observation that staff members must also uphold respectful ethics of phone use and model proper behavior to which a faculty member replied that the most effective way to get his class to turn off their phones is to turn off his own phone in a very conspicious and noticeable manner.
  • During a discussion about the ethics of phone use (perhaps following the above discussion of phone use during meetings), an attendee described a student-initiated effort to make part of the library a “quiet zone” where wireless phone discussion are not allowed.