Professors love, hate cell phones in classes

When cell phones started ringing during Peter Telep’s classes at the University of Central Florida, the English instructor came up with an unusual solution: He gets to answer the call.

Telep has taken messages from boyfriends and girlfriends, telling his students’ significant others, “This is the English teacher, and we’re busy right now.”

On the first day of class, Telep said, he warns students about his policy.

“Believe me, after seeing that happen once in class, every cell phone is switched off,” Telep said.

The widespread use of cell phones on college campuses has left many teachers searching for the right way to help reduce what they see as a classroom disruption.

Like Telep, some instructors take a creative approach. But others have more serious rules, such as asking students to leave class or taking points off their grade if their telephone rings.

Instructors aren’t the only ones irritated by the nonstop ringing.

Andrea Lockhart, a junior at UCF, said she gets “extremely annoyed” when her peers don’t turn off their cell phones.

In one class, she said, a student not only answered his phone, but he proceeded to talk on it. In another class, a phone rang while the students were taking an exam.

Lockhart said she thinks some students don’t care about being courteous.

“I am paying good money to sit in my classes, and once I am there, I try to stay focused on what is going on in the classroom,” Lockhart said.

“When someone’s phone rings, not only does it disturb me but everyone in the room,” she said. “Even more so, it distracts the professor, who then usually comments on it and throws the lecture off.”

Neither UCF nor VCC has a policy on how to handle the issue, so instructors are allowed to set their own guidelines.

Professors at Rollins College say cell phones haven’t become a problem on their campus.

Greg Gardner, chairman of the Department of Communication at Rollins, said phones rarely ring in his classes.

Rollins Professor Connie Hudspeth agrees and said phones ring “every once in a while.”

But, unlike most professors, Hudspeth sometimes asks students to bring their phones to class.

“For us, it is vital students have them for group projects,” she said.

Hudspeth’s students work on projects involving the community and are allowed to contact their sources during class.

Cliff Morris Jr., dean of mathematics at VCC’s west campus, said no matter what approach an instructor takes, it is important for all professors to clearly present their policy in the class syllabus.

He said a warning should be offered before harsh actions are taken.

Morris said he knows professors who give no grace period and immediately ask the student to leave class if their cell phone rings. That’s something that some students say is too harsh.

Cell phones are distractions in the learning process, Morris said, and it is up to the teacher to limit class disruptions. He also said it is the students’ responsibility to put the phones on vibrate or turn them off.