Low Grades? Here’s What You Should You Do

In my almost 30 years of teaching I am sorry to say that almost every class (especially the large classes I have taught) has had at least one student who failed the course or did really poorly. This is a real drag because it is almost always the case that this student could have avoided failing if he or she had taken some important early action.

Before getting to what action you should take if you are doing poorly, let me first say that as a faculty member there is only so much I can do to move a student forward in my classes. Thus, how you do in a class is mostly up to you. For example, if you decide (for whatever reason) not to study you are likely not going to do well. Or if you think that you can blow off class, the chances of catching up and getting on top of class material is slim. I will add that you can always take a chance and see what happens if you do not study or stop going to class, but I find it hard to believe that you really want to play these odds.

bubblesheet-986935_1280With the above in mind, what should you do if you find that you are really struggling in a class? Here are several pieces of advice:

1) Be realistic about your situation. It is critical that you understand that there is a problem, and that it needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. The option of waiting is typically not going to work for you. Too often I have had students who are doing poorly, and think that things will just turn around on the next exam. In most cases, things do not turn around and these students continue to fall further behind.

2) Determine the cause of your poor performance. There are a number of factors that may be leading to your difficulty in a class. I feel it is best to initially sit down on your own and assess what might be the problem. For example, are you doing poorly because you simply do not study enough? Remember, the unwritten rule of most faculty members is that you are expected to put in 3 hours of work for every 1 credit hour you are taking. Yes, that means 9 hours outside of class for a 3 credit-hour class! Other factors impacting your performance might include your (a) not going to class; (b) not understanding the material; (c) having too many obligations (number of courses, employment, relationships, family, activities); and (d) having mental health issues (e.g., depression, anxiety).

3) Determine if there are changes you can make on your own to improve your class situation. It would be nice and simple if you determine that you are not studying enough for a class, because then you might just have to study more. This is easier said than done, but at least you can work on a study schedule that can get you back on track (for tips on setting up a study schedule go to: https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/). Likewise, if you are not going to class, go to class!

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4) For some issues you will need help from others (aside from the instructor). This help can come in many forms. For example, if you are having trouble understanding the material, you could meet with other students to go over class notes. You might also want to get a tutor. At some schools tutors may be free and centrally located, but you might have to do a little searching to find a tutor who can help you out. In my experience, tutors are great and can often be a game changer as far as your performance in class. Another person who may be able to help you out is a graduate teaching assistant, if your class has one of these. You might also talk to your academic advisor to see if they can offer you some guidance, especially with regard to directing you toward certain resources (academic and otherwise) on campus. Finally, if you are having mental health concerns you will need to seek out a mental health clinic on campus to get professional help.

5) No matter what, you should talk to your Instructor. In my opinion, it is extremely important to touch base with your Instructor about your situation. Regardless of what you are thinking it is likely the case that your Instructor will be in your corner, and they ill do whatever they can to help you do better in the course. This might include going over material or giving you advice on how to study. The key is that if you say nothing, your Instructor (who will ultimately give you a grade) will be in the dark about your situation. Keep in mind, however, that you should avoid thinking that your Instructor is going to offer you extra credit or discard certain low grades—this is probably unlikely.

6) Consider dropping the course. Even if you do all of the above, you might still need to drop the course. You may be in a situation where the benefits of dropping the course (e.g., more time to devote to other classes) far exceed the cost of staying in the course (e.g., a failing grade). Check out my blog post about dropping a course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/?s=drop+course).

I hope this information helps you think about your situation when things are not going so well. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Dealing With Grades After Finals

Congratulations on finishing the semester! Of course, I hope things went well and that you are satisfied with all of your grades. However, I know that there are going to be some of you who are not happy. I mean, not happy at all.

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As I see it, there are usually 4 types of unhappy students at the end of the semester. Student 1 is unhappy as the result of not performing as well as they expected. These are the students who expected to earn an A, but they got a C. Moreover, they realize that their performance did not warrant an A–their C actually reflects what they should have received.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 1: I am sorry to say that if you are like Student 1 there is not much you can do. Your grade reflects your performance. If you did not perform well, either because you thought the class was too hard or you did not put in enough effort, I do not see any way your grade is going to be changed. My best advice is to consider repeating the course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/03/21/is-repeating-a-course-a-good-idea-definitely/).

Student 2 is unhappy because they believe that their grade was incorrectly calculated based on the criteria presented in the syllabus. Remember, the importance of your syllabus. Not only does it make clear all of the rules of the class, but also it should specify exactly how grades are determined. If your syllabus says each exam is worth 25%, then each exam is worth 25%. Neither you nor your Instructor can change the rules at the end of the semester. If you calculate your grade and you see that Exam 1 was weighted 20% and Exam 3 was weighted only 10%, you have every right to be unhappy.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 2: If your grade was calculated incorrectly you should take action. This means:

1) Contact the Instructor immediately. Do not wait until you get back from break. The sooner you deal with this, the better. I’ll add that when I hear from a student right away I know this student is really concerned about their grade.

2) If possible, contact the Instructor face to face. Of course, this may be impossible if you get your final grade after you have left campus.

3) Get all your facts together and be prepared to present a convincing case. Make sure you double-check your calculations to be sure that there was a mistake. It would probably do you well to have another person look over the calculations to be sure you did them correctly. When you actually communicate with your Instructor I feel you should be ready to go through your calculations in a very systematic fashion to show them where mistakes were made.

4) MOST IMPORTANT! Be civil. No matter how you contact your Instructor, do so in a way where you are courteous, polite and respectful. You will get nowhere with your Instructor (except asked to end the conversation!) if you raise your voice, do not give your Instructor a chance to speak, or use foul language. Be calm, and let the facts guide the conversation. Let me add that you might think that you cannot be rude in an email—think again. I am amazed by the rudeness I see in an emails sent to me.

Student 3 is unhappy because they feel that certain graded components (e.g., assignments, reaction papers, exams) that comprised their overall grade were graded too low.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 3: Same as for Student 2, except you will need to have some way of presenting a case for why you were graded unfairly. This can be quite difficult, especially with graded components that are more subjective (e.g., an essay exam). I feel you have every right to ask your Instructor to justify your grade by making clear exactly why a certain amount of points were deducted. What might help your case is if your Instructor gave out a grading rubric that you can use to justify why you thought you should not have lost certain points.

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Student 4 is unhappy because they feel that somehow their grade does not reflect their performance and effort in the class. This is the student who just missed out on the next highest grade. A “silver medalist” like this is caught between wishing they had tried just a bit more in the class and hoping that their Instructor might offer them the few points they need to obtain a higher grade.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 4: If you are Student 4 this is a really tricky situation that must be approached very strategically. As above, contact the Instructor immediately, try to meet with the Instructor face to face, and be civil. Keep in mind that you should not be “begging” for a grade. Based on my own 29 years of experience and my discussions with faculty colleagues, this type of behavior simply will not work; if anything, begging will lead an Instructor to stop the discussion and make clear that there is no chance of additional points. My view is that if this is you, be prepared have some case to make. For example, you might have grades that show a steady increase through the semester, thereby showing a greater mastery of the material. I will caution you that if you state that your grade must be raised because you will lose a scholarship or be put on probation is typically not going to sway a lot of faculty.

I hope it is not you who is unhappy after the semester. But, as I described above, if it is you remember that there are ways to increase your chances of ending up with a better grade. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

Dealing With A Death While In College

What could be worse? You’re in the middle of the semester, and suddenly you find out that someone you know has died. Of course, you will be in shock and very sad. What makes everything more difficult is that at some point you have to make some big decisions about how to deal with this death amid everything going on with school. I hope to offer you some pointers about this, so that if you are hit with the news of a death you are better prepared to manage things. Keep in mind that these are tough issues to discuss:

1) You will likely need to consider your relationship to the deceased. Is it one of your parents, a grandparent, relative, or a friend? The importance of this question is tied to the degree that you feel you are obligated or want to be involved with things like the funeral as well as seeing and comforting others. For example, if one of the parents died you are going to want to leave immediately to go home. The last thing in your mind is school and whether you have some reading to do or need to take an exam. However, for certain relatives or people you know you might not feel as pressed to drop everything. In fact, you might decide that you do not want to attend the funeral, or that you may attend the funeral but plan on returning right away to campus.

death-cemetary2) At some point it would be best to contact your Instructors or someone from your school. With regard to the former, a quick email is probably enough to let your Instructors understand your situation. If you are able to tell them when you might return that is helpful. But, it may be the case that all you can do is tell each of them about the death, and that you will be in touch with them as soon as possible. With regard to contacting a school official, I have had students do this on several occasions. This can be a good strategy if you want to avoid having to contact multiple Instructors. An email to the Dean of Students or another administrator about your situation will make sure that all of your Instructors are informed of you absence from class or any other activities on campus.

3) As crazy as it may seem, you need to be prepared to show documentation of the death. I know, isn’t it bad enough you must deal with the death and now you have to supply a funeral notice or obituary? I agree, and I do not ask this of my own students. However, I have heard of a number of faculty members who in their quest to document all absences require this information from their students. I should add that I have heard about this more in cases of deaths of friends and somewhat distant relatives. Although you might find being asked for proof of the death to be offensive, the academic rules of your school typically allows an Instructor to ask for this information.

4) Related to #3, it would probably be useful for you to find out what are the rules of your school regarding excused absences. For example, your school may only allow an excused absence when there is a death in your immediate family. This would not include certain relatives or other important people in your life, such as friends. I know this sounds unfair, but you will have to do your best to deal with these rules. For example, you will need to talk to each of your Instructors and see where they stand with regard to the rules about excused absences. If an Instructor plays hardball and refuses to excuse you for work you missed (i.e., gives you a 0 on this work), you will have to decide whether to talk to others about your situation (e.g., the Chairperson of your Department, your Dean, the University Ombudsperson). Talking to another person may help you, but be prepared that these others may simply say that the Instructor of a class has final say on grading issues.

5) If you are allowed to make up work because your Instructor excused your absences due to the death, try to deal with this work as soon as possible. I know this may be difficult because your head just isn’t into it. Still, if possible, get this work done so you can get back on track and not fall too far behind. I will add that if you really are having a difficult time getting back to your studies you might considering withdrawing from school for a semester. This would a very difficult decision, but for your own mental health and to avoid receiving low grades because you just were not ready for school after the death a withdrawal may be the best alternative. This course of action would delay you only a bit, and you could come back the next semester stronger than ever. Finding out about this option will likely require you talking to an academic advisor or even the school Registrar.

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6) Do not be afraid to seek counseling to help you deal with the grief of losing a loved one. Regardless of who died, you will likely be affected in many ways. The effects may include difficulty in concentrating and sadness. Remember that a person who is aware that they need help in dealing with a difficult situation is showing strength, not weakness. There are likely to be resources on your campus that are available to you as far as helping you deal with this loss. These typically include a counseling center or other mental health professionals. You do not have to deal with your grief alone—others are there in your corner.

In closing, I hope you do not have to face the issue of death while you are in college. If you do, I hope the points I raised above will help you better understand the issues that you will face, and that the impact of this loss will be minimized as far as your college career.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

 

Special Guest Writer—Anthony Dotson (Director, University of Kentucky Veterans Resource Center): Soldier to Student – Good Luck!

Nationally, our student veterans are not being successful in attaining their academic goals. Early reports in 2010 put dropout rates at close to 88%. More recent “research” attempts to downplay the severity of the issue and claims that the majority of student veterans are indeed graduating. The majority is defined as a very narrow 51.7%. Not exactly a number worth celebrating. The reality is that student veterans are lagging behind their non-veteran counterparts on campus for several reasons, some related to transition issues and others related to the failure of DoD and the VA to adequately inform and protect those who serve.

soldier-departing-service-uniform-40820So before you decide to leave the military and put that hard earned education benefit to use, you should educate yourself and learn the lessons from those who have gone before you.

  1. Make sure college is really what you want to do. Not everyone has to go to college in order to be successful. I know that is shocking information and runs contrary to main stream media but the reality is that half of last year’s college graduates are under-employed. Meaning that they are working in jobs that do not require their degree. The trades are actually hurting for people right now. Heck, my HVAC guy makes far more money than I do, and I have two masters degrees!
  2. Choose the right form of higher education to meet your academic preparedness and your academic potential. There is a wide variety of higher education to choose from and they are not all created equal. Some focus on access and taking education to the people and thus have less stringent enrollment standards while others are very selective in who they admit. And unfortunately, there are others that are simply out to make money. I encourage you to enroll into the best school you can get admitted to.
  3. Online education sounds easy, but has a poor track record in actually graduating student veterans. Always ask about retention and graduation rates regardless of the type of higher education you select. The very best retention and graduation rates are in Private Universities followed by 4yr State Universities. It doesn’t mean you can’t be successful at the others, but you should know your odds going in. Another number to consider are loan default rates. If their graduates are defaulting, that means that they are not obtaining employment significant enough to pay off their debt.
  4. Don’t count on your Military Credit. Unless you are in the Air Force, your military credit will not likely move you any closer to your degree. While most schools “accept” military credit, in reality they simply recognize it as credit and will put in on your transcript as General Education credit. This type of credit does not count towards your electives or your degree requirements. In addition, too much of this type of credit on your transcript can actually work against you when it comes to financial aid. Look for military credit policies that only take the credit that will be applied towards your degree. You don’t need the fluff. And if you are wondering, the Air Force has the largest accredited community college in the country. Well played Air Force….well played.
  5. Know what Veteran and Military Friendly really means. Many schools want your GI Bill money and will go to great lengths to earn the title “veteran friendly”. Sadly, they may not be as friendly as their ranking or title implies. These titles are determined in most cases by the responses to survey questions. These surveys are created by folks who have never transitioned from the military to higher education so they include questions that sound good but have little to nothing to do with being veteran friendly. An example might be; “What percentage of the student body are veterans?”   The implication here is that the larger the number, the more veteran friendly the campus is. When in reality, they could be a very small school located outside the gates of a military installation. You can define veteran friendly however you like, I tend to define it as; “Student veteran success as measured by graduation rates.” After all, if they are not graduating, it doesn’t really matter how many veterans they have or how big their veterans’ center is.
  6. Finally, save some money. The transition out of the military may be a smooth one for many, but I assure you that life in the civilian world is not cheap. On top of that, the VA is not likely to pay you as promptly as you would like. Many student veterans struggle with finances early in the transition because they were “expecting” the VA to pay on time like DoD. The reality is that, that payment is often later than expected or needed. Having a reserve of 3 months’ rent will help you withstand the challenges with the VA. When you are looking at schools, see what they have in the way of emergency financial support.

solierpost-personwithpenbook-132922You have served your country honorably, now it is time to reap the benefits of a college education. Don’t throw that benefit away at a school that is not accredited, or one that has a poor track record of graduating students. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. If it sounds easy, beware! Obtaining a college degree is not supposed to be easy. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Highlighting 5 Big Differences Between High School and College

About a month ago I was talking to a class of rising freshmen, and I asked them if anyone had a question about how things work in college classroom. A hand went up and I was asked a question I had not heard in my 28 years of teaching: “What do you do when you need to go to the bathroom?” It was such a simple question, but it was the ideal question for a student trying their best to be prepared for the new world of college. At first, all I could think to say was “Great question!”. Then I proceeded to talk about this question and introduce several other issues that college students and faculty alike take for granted but are not usually known by students who three months ago were still in high school

Here are 5 critical issues (there are more) that I feel every incoming freshman needs to be clear about:

1) In college there is nothing like a hall pass, let alone a bathroom pass. You are free to go to the bathroom whenever you like. However, there are always classroom rules of etiquette. For example, if you get up in the middle of a lecture (large or small) do it quietly, walk to the door in a way that does not cut across the Instructor or makes you more salient than you already will be. That is, whenever someone gets up in class or comes into the classroom late everyone is going to look. The key is to be the least disruptive to the class as possible. I will add that this kind of free movement in and out of class may not only be for a trip to the bathroom, but if you do not feel well, to get a drink, or other reasons you may have for entering or leaving a classroom.

2) It is important to know what to call your Instructor in person or in an email. The way you know what to call them is either because they specifically tell you or you understand to follow certain unwritten rules. With regard to the former, some Instructors will tell you to call them by their first name. That’s fine, but quite honestly I do not feel you’ll get that too often. With regard to the latter, keep in mind that unlike high school your Instructor will typically have a doctorate degree (e.g., a PhD). If they have their doctorate degree it is generally the case that you will call them “Dr.” as in “Dr. Golding”. Some students say “Professor” (“Professor Golding”), but either is acceptable. Let me add that if a student called me “Mr. Golding” it would really be no big deal. However, I know that being addressed this way would appall some of my colleagues. If an Instructor does not have their doctorate degree you should call them “Mr.” (e.g., “Mr. Smith”) or “Ms.” (“e.g., “Ms. Jones”).

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3) In each class, you will need to take a seat—somewhere. It is almost always the case that you can sit wherever you want. I would caution you to try and sit near the front to (a) allow you to interact with the Instructor and (b) to keep more focused on the lecture (i.e., you can’t look around the room as easily.) However, I am finding that more and more classes have assigned seating. The Instructor may assign the seats from Day 1, or (as I have done) you choose a seat by Day 2 and that is your seat for the remainder of the semester. You may think that assigned seating is taking you right back to high school, but assigned seats allow an Instructor to more easily learn the names of students and can be very helpful to an Instructor in bookkeeping as far as grades are concerned. Also, the reason I feel OK about my Day 2 plan is that I have found that most students choose their seat and then keep it through the semester even when I do not make it a class policy.

4) The days of constant exams and homework in every class are generally over. There are some classes that will have a lot of graded work (e.g., Math, foreign language), but in general graded work is way less than you had in high school. For example, your classes will typically have 1-4 exams. It is possible that you may have a class with only a midterm and a final. Also, a lot of classes have no actual graded homework or assignments. That is, your exam grades are your only grades. Finally, be prepared for semester-long projects that are worth a significant portion of your grade. Let me add that the fact that you will likely have less graded work is not necessarily a good thing. It means that everything that is graded is worth a lot more. Therefore, you really have to put major effort into everything that gets graded.

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5) In general, your grade is your grade. What I mean by this is I typically get students who did not do well on a graded assignment or exam and ask me if they can do something extra to raise their grade. I have learned (partly from my own kids) that teachers in high school will offer extra credit on an individual basis. However, it is my experience that this kind of individualized extra credit rarely occurs in college. There may be extra credit opportunities, but these are usually points that can be earned the entire class.

As is often the case, the differences between high school and college are quite large. Remember, you are in a whole new world. You need to understand what is expected and how the college system works. Sure, there will be times when you are confused and frustrated. Keep calm and know that you, like countless others before you, will learn the ropes and will end up being a successful college student. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Special Guest Writer–Ellie Cahill: Wear Your Letters, Earn Your Grades: Balancing Greek Life and Academics

So you’ve made it. You moved in, said goodbye to your parents, joined an incredible Greek organization, and now you’ve survived your first few weeks of classes. While these first few weeks of school were new and exciting, reality will set in. You’re going to have homework, exams, chapter meetings, philanthropy events, social events, and not to mention meetings for other student organizations you want to be involved in. The number one fear we always hear from new freshman is that they are not sure if they can balance the obligations of Greek Life and their academics. What you don’t always realize, is that the number one priority of Greek Organizations is academics. We are all here to be college students first and members of our organizations second. These organizations exist to not only provide a sense of belonging here on campus, but to help you thrive in all aspects of your life. While managing all your obligations is difficult, here is some advice to help you learn important time management skills:

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1) Buy a planner! You can literally get one anywhere such as Target and Staples. I recommend finding one that has monthly calendars at the beginning and then breaks down into weekly agendas. In the monthly calendars, I like to write down major events like exams, important assignments, class projects, social functions, athletic games, philanthropy events, etc. This way I can see when all of my main events are happening in relation to one another. It is so important to know when you might have exams and important Greek events during the same week so you can plan your study time in advance. I then use the weekly agenda to write down all of my homework, such as notes or worksheets, and all of my minor weekly meetings. This allows me to understand what all I need to get done each day while also keeping in mind what I need done by the end of each week. Understanding what you need to get done and the time frame you have to do it, is essential to being successful. While it’s important to write all of this down, it is even more important that you actually use your planner every single day. Do not let it become just another notebook that takes up space in your backpack!

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2) Decide what is mandatory and what is optional. To quote my mom, “you have to do your have to dos, before you do your want to dos.” Look at all of your obligations each month and determine which are absolutely mandatory and what are things that you simply just want to do for fun. For example, weekly chapter meeting is mandatory, class is mandatory, your chapter’s philanthropy event is mandatory. Those are all of your “have to dos.” Going to a social event, grabbing lunch with a friend, or going to an athletic game are all of your “want to dos.” Realize that sometimes you are not going to be able to do it all. If there’s a social on a Thursday, but you have an exam on Friday morning, then you are going to have to miss out on the social. Saying no to the “want to dos” that conflict with those “have to dos” is totally ok. For every event you miss, there will always be another one.

3) Ask for help. One of the best parts of being in a Greek organization is that you are bound to have class with members of your chapter. Make study groups with them! It is a great way to meet and get to know other members in your chapter while still studying for your classes. Plus, you’ll never have to pull an all-nighter alone! Another great benefit with being in such a large organization is that there are older members who have been there and done that before you. There is bound to be at least one member (if not more) who has the same major or has taken the same classes as you. Use them! They are always willing to show you which classes and professors to take or how to take notes and study for the class.

4) Most importantly, use your chapter’s Academics Chair. This is usually a member who has high academic achievement and wants to help guide others to reach their own academic achievement. Their entire position is to help you be a better student! If you are struggling in a class, they will help you seek help whether that’s from someone in the chapter or from an on-campus tutoring place. If you are nervous to get help on campus, they will probably go with you! You are surrounded by opportunity to be academically successful, take advantage of it!

Your chapter wants you to be successful in all areas of your life, but especially in your academics. Chapters love to brag and boast about all of the incredible achievements in your life. Whether that’s getting an A on the exam you thought you failed or getting into the program you dreamed of, they love seeing you accomplish your goals and will help with anything in order to get you there. Yes, it will be hard, but college is hard for everyone. It isn’t supposed to be easy. Luckily in your chapter, you will be surrounded by people who will be there to help you through the hard times in order to make them easier and to celebrate with you during the good times to acknowledge how hard you worked.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

What To Do With Your Cellphone In Class?

         Sometimes I think back to the old days. I started teaching in graduate school way back in 1984 and have been a college professor teaching classes since 1988. In those early days, of course, there were no cell phones, ipads, notebooks, or laptops. Students came to class and did not have the potential distraction of an electronic device. Oh how things have changed! Now students come to class, often with multiple electronic devices, and they are ready and willing to use these devices in class. However, there is a question about how you should think about these devices, specifically your cell phone, in class.

cellphoneblogger-336371_1280         In answering this question, I want to begin by saying that myself and most other faculty use our cellphones a lot. We are heavily into them, using them all of the time to call people, text, check out the Internet, play games, etc. Thus, what I will say isn’t the case of an old faculty member who refuses to accept the innovations of the 21st century. With this in mind, just hear me out on what I think you should do with your cellphone in class.

1) In thinking about what to do with your cell phone in class, you need to first change the way you think about your attachment to your cellphone. I am sure that in certain ways you and your cellphone are “one”. However, in the classroom you just can’t be thinking about things in this way. Part of the issue is that you need to pay attention to what is being said in class, take notes, and participate in class. You are going to be limited in these activities if you are checking your cellphone every few seconds to see if you have a new text. Let me add two things about this change of thinking. First, the size of the class should not matter here, because even large classes will require you to be attentive and complete your work. Second research has shown that students understand that a classroom is an inappropriate place to use a cellphone (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229862354_Cellular_phone_etiquette_among_college_students)

 2) Figure out a strategy that will keep you from constantly looking at your phone. For example, it might be best to put your cellphone in your backpack or in your pocket with the ringer turned off. You will be able to hear it buzz or feel the vibration (especially in your pocket) if an emergency call or text is coming through, but you are not looking at your cellphone all of the time. You might want to check, however, if having the buzzer on is OK, or if your Instructor expects your cellphone to be on silent. To me it is only reasonable to allow for a buzzer in case of an emergency (see #5 below). Will it be tough to follow this type of strategy? Of course! But, you need to stop yourself in some way, and having your cellphone out of view is very important. One other thing to point out here is that I know some people look at their cellphone a lot to check out the time; their cellphone serves as a watch. Still, you need to try and stop looking at your cellphone so much. Looking at the time will typically lead to checking phone calls, texts, and the Internet. Therefore, get used to checking the time by looking at the classroom clock.

3) Understand the rules for cellphone use that are presented in each course syllabus. It is likely the case that your Instructor will frown upon cellphone use unless it is used in conjunction with an educational app, and will state in the syllabus that you should not use it during class. This may even include telling you that you cannot use your cellphone to take pictures of material presented on the board/screen. In some cases (so I have heard) things may be much stricter, and the Instructor may include penalizing points for using your cellphone. Finally, it is possible that your Instructor will allow you to have your cellphone out, although the ringer must be off. The key is that there is almost surely going to be something in the syllabus for each of your classes about cellphones, and you need to know this information.

cellphonetexting-593321_12804) Don’t try to play games with your Instructor. By this I mean that over the years I have encountered students who either think they can “pull one on the old guy” or that I am simply “out of it”. This includes students who text with their phones on their lap. Do they think I really cannot see them? I guess not, but even in a room with 500 students you can see students texting—a student moving their hands in their lap with their head down when I am not lecturing is a dead giveaway! When your Instructor says no cellphones can be out they mean it. One caveat to all of this is that I have talked to students who make an interesting point about cellphone use. They tell me that sometimes students who pull out their cellphones are not being intentionally rude, but are doing so automatically (i.e., “texting unconsciously”)—they are not really aware that they are being rude. As a psychologist, I understand what they are saying but this can still turn into a big problem, and to me indicates all the more reason why that these students need to put their cellphone in their backpacks during class.

5) Think about the best way to use your cellphone in case of an emergency. Of course, emergencies happen and having a cellphone is just what we all need to be able to deal with the unexpected. Because of the importance of cellphones in these situations, check to be sure you can have your phone on buzzer so you can hear if an unexpected text or phone call is coming through. If your Instructor expects you to have your phone on silent, you might want to approach them and see if there is any flexibility on this rule. I am betting your Instructor will see your point of view, especially because it is likely the case that your Instructor has their phone on buzzer. On a related point, if an emergency call or text comes through, my advice is to get up quietly from your seat and go into the hallway to talk or text. You might even want to later explain to your Instructor why you had to leave the classroom.

In the end, like many other issues dealing with being in class, it is important that your cellphone use allows you to be courteous and respectful to your Instructor and your classmates. This behavior will make for a more positive classroom experience.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.