Of course, they may be looking up something related to the lecture content, but I can usually spot that dead-eye TikTok coma a mile off. I get distracted because I am genuinely upset that they’re wasting time, money and opportunity.

I initially thought I was just taking it too personally and that my ego was just taking a hammering, but it is much more about feeling sorry for them and their struggle with the addiction. Either way, it stops my flow as I find myself having to switch mindsets to tackle the situation, which then becomes a total distraction for the rest of the class. I do remind students at the beginning of each lecture that social media is a distraction, and encourage all to give themselves a break from it during their lecture time, but some (especially if they have come late to the lecture!) are just too locked in the tractor-beam.

I consider my lectures as interesting, exciting, full of humour and carefully curated AV, but, with some students, I feel I’m losing the battle for their attention. I’m keen to learn of strategies for coping with the aforementioned mindset switching, so any suggestions are welcome.

By the way, I can’t put a ban on phone use as the Uni has just issued an edict saying it’s ok for students to take notes on them.

  • 2
    Is this behaviour a distraction to other students, or only to you? Can you request or suggest the student to leave?
    – Servaes
    Dec 31, 2022 at 9:25
  • What sort of course is this? Elementary stuff? Critically important for graduation?
    – Buffy
    Dec 31, 2022 at 13:02
  • How long have you been teaching at this level? Are you a novice at it or an old geezer (like me)?
    – Buffy
    Jan 1, 2023 at 13:54
  • Are they distracting to others? Do they get good grades?
    – GEdgar
    Jan 1, 2023 at 16:52
  • they do not care about your lecture, why should you care about them? show some form of mutual respect: ignore them. Even if you consider your lectures interesting, in the current world attending a university is perceived as necessary, therefore there is a certain percentage listening to you because they have to. Good luck and keep on doing an awesome job for the (hopefully not so) few interested!
    – EarlGrey
    Jan 3, 2023 at 10:25

3 Answers 3


At university level we are teaching adults (well in many legal jurisdictions over 18 years is considered fully adult) so when teaching we are in less of a position to attempt to correct a learners behaviour, than one might in say elementary school.

The students are thus responsible for their own behaviour. How a student's actions affects us as an individual is something we also should have some degree of control over. If something a student does only impact us then we need to consider what we can do to limit the impact. However, if something a student does affects several other learners in the class in a way that impairs their learning then the teacher will need to find a way to reduce that impact on the class learning.

How to reduce the impact on the class learning can be achieved in several ways depending on the nature of the action; in other words whether it is chronic and ongoing or acute and immediate. For something that is chronic and ongoing speaking to the individual student outside of class can often be an appropriate action as it does not disrupt the class more than the irritating behaviour. When something is more acute and impacts several students then halting the flow of teaching and commenting may be better.

Personally, I often find class peer "pressure" the most effective in many cases. I just stop speaking and stare at the offender (I "freeze"). Several students then "nudge" the offender who becomes to realise that others in the class had a negative reaction to what they were doing and both stop and also do not repeat.

I also find that directly giving students a list of things to do and not to do is counter productive at an adult level, as it implies you view them as perhaps not capable of adult behaviour. Mutual respect is something that works much better at encouraging learning in a university context. They need to know I like to teach them this topic and can get back similar vibes back from them in some ephemeral way.


It is an unreasonable expectation that everyone in your audience will pay complete attention to you all the time. Have a look around at the audience at a conference, and you will see that even(?) professors will not always pay attention, despite having paid to be at the conference, considerations of professional courtesy, and an interest to actually learn something. You don't have nearly enough information to figure out what is going with a student during your lecture, and that is not where your focus should be anyway.

While giving a lecture, focus on those students paying attention. Anything else with make you feel bad (as you notice) and probably be detrimental to your teaching and the experience of the students that do pay attention, without actually accomplishing anything.

You are already working hard to make it easy to pay attention. Keep that up. If you notice excessive amounts of non-attention, try to figure out what is wrong - but a student or two looking at their smartphone is normal.

There might be students who genuinely need some help in paying attention to their lectures and not to TikTok. But that support is probably be handled better in some kind of mentoring meeting rather than public shaming or other ad-hoc interventions during a lecture. In particular, you will want to make sure to actually know what is going on with the student before jumping to conclusions. (Just to offer a scenario: a student is obsessively checking their messages during a lecture because a loved-one is in hospital in critical condition. You call them out for browsing on TikTok or whatever. Horrible experience for everyone.)


When I have guest lecturers on my course, I often sit at the back. It's a tiered lecture theatre and you can see what's on the students' laptop screens. For a minority, there is usually some social media going on. Even when the lecturer is brilliant.

I have not done this, but I like the idea of applying social pressure. Do a poll in your next class. Say you have noticed this happening and want their views -is it distracting to them and should you have a rule to ban it? If they vote yes, then that in itself should reduce it, particularly if you point out that the student behind you will usually know if you are being rude and breaking the new rule. And if they vote no, then that hopefully gives you some reassurance that they are not as bothered about it as you might think, allowing you to focus on the lecture without being distracted by the impact social media is having.

  • "If they vote yes" If they vote no, what are you going to do?
    – Nobody
    Jan 1, 2023 at 12:06
  • Not stress about it. If they aren't bothered, that's fine. Jan 1, 2023 at 12:11
  • The problem is that the OP is genuinely upset that they’re wasting time, money and opportunity.
    – Nobody
    Jan 1, 2023 at 12:13
  • 1
    Then, if the students themselves are not bothered, the problem is with the psychology of the OP. And our offered solution should be "here are ways to stop worrying about this and to get on with the lecture". My proposed solution remains awesome. 😎 Jan 1, 2023 at 12:27
  • 2
    You might edit that last comment into the answer to make it more complete.
    – Buffy
    Jan 1, 2023 at 13:55

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