Education-enemy #1: Mobile phones

Michael P JansenSome of you may remember when smoking was permitted just about anywhere. My high school had an on-campus smoking area — the “butt lounge”. As an undergrad, I remember smoking a cigarette in the hallway outside the analytical chemistry lab.1 One could smoke on subway platforms, in offices, in people's homes and cars. A professor of behavioural psychology2 told us that — at least in 1979 — it was easier to kick a heroin habit than to quit smoking. 

That makes sense. One could smoke just about anywhere; heroin use needed to be more discreet. 

The synergistic effect of open use coupled with the nicotine-dopamine thing created a recipe for serious addiction. 

Fast forward . . . 

Forget vaping. Mobile phones are the new cigarettes. 

It is acceptable to use a mobile phone pretty much anywhere — and I mean anywhere. I’ve seen people on their phones in church, for Pete’s sake.3

And like nicotine, receiving a text message or “notification” releases dopamine.

Many teenagers . . . okay . . . millennials . . . okay . . . people . . .  do not have the self-control to disengage themselves from Mother-Tech. 

We need to fight this addiction. 

To this end, the government of Ontario wants to ban mobile phones in classrooms during instructional time.4

Part of me says “woo-hoo!!” Another part of me says, “What took you so long?”

In my classroom, mobile phones are placed on the lab bench as students enter.

I don’t even allow computers during lessons.5

Like, I’m gonna let a kid “take notes” on his computer while I’m explaining hydrogen bonding: First off, note-taking by typing6 is ineffective, especially in chemistry. Further, we will be distracted by the clickety-clack of the keys — and by whatever websites are open.

One more thing — I can’t see the students’ computer screens.

I’m not against technology. C’mon . . . I use a white board. I rely on PowerPoint. I’m all for tablet-style devices where students write with a stylus.

Mobile phones have no place in the instructional environment — they are distractions. FULL STOP. NO DISCUSSION. 

The addiction is too much. How can a chemistry lesson compete with Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat?

Tell you what: Since I instituted the “put your phone on the lab bench when you enter” policy, also known as “lead us not into temptation”, not one —  not a single, solitary student — EVER — has beefed me on this. 

Students see this as freedom. I have — at least temporarily — cut the techno-umbilical cord. I can hear them after class, “Why didn’t you return my text?” . . .  “Jansen took my phone.”

They blame me. Problem solved.

At home, however, mobile phones can be huge time-stealers. On curriculum evening I tell parents, “Have your son stash his phone in another room when he studies.” 

But many parents loath to do this . . . they seem afraid. 

I ask: 

“Who pays for the phone?”
“Who pays for the internet?”

—“We do.”

“No further questions.”


  1. so many memories . . . 
  2. Dr F Klajner
  3. bible of the new millennium:  . . . Jesus said to his disciples, “Follow me . . . on Twitter”.
  5. exceptions: accommodations (IEPs); occasional collection of lab data in a spreadsheet 
  6. “keyboarding” to those under 35