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I was wondering if it is appropriate to have my phone out on my desk face down during class. I have done this for some time and have never been told to put it away.

On the one hand, putting it out shows the teacher, Here is my phone, I'm not using it.

On the other hand, putting it out might imply, I am waiting for something more important than your class.

Is it generally inappropriate or acceptable to have my phone out during class?

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    The answer really depends on the local culture and on the professor. In some places it is frowned upon, whereas in others it is accepted as a sign of this era. And some professors would be annoyed, and some wouldn't. Most of my students keep their phones on the desk face up, and they might check them several times during the lectures. I don't find it particularly annoying, and, after all, I don't find this any different from when 25 years ago, as a student, I'd play Connect Four with my closest mate during the lectures. – Massimo Ortolano Feb 9 '17 at 14:55
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    There is some evidence that having a visible cell phone can be distracting and detract from discussion: time.com/3616383/cell-phone-distraction – NMJD Feb 9 '17 at 16:21
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    Here is my phone, I'm not using it. Replace "phone" with "gun" and maybe you'll see how ridiculous that sounds. A more likely interpretation is Here is my phone, I'm not using it... yet. – Dan Romik Feb 9 '17 at 17:03
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    I use my phone to record lectures, with permission. Perhaps others do the same? – mas Feb 9 '17 at 22:39
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    Turn it off and put it away. – Bob Brown Feb 11 '17 at 2:38
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This ultimately ends up as a very situational issue, depending on culture, professor, individual, and past experience. I generally wouldn't consider it automatically a bad thing - and I tend to do it myself.

The main issue is not so much the phone, as how you use it and interact with it in the context of a class. I had a professor who explicitly asked for no electronic devices to be out in class, so in that case obviously they were clear that they didn't like to have phones out, so you'd generally want to abide by that. I, on the other hand, made a point of pulling out my phone quite visibly when a due date or assignment was announced to put it in my digital calendar, or if someone asked a question the professor was unsure of, or if the professor said something I doubted the correctness of I'd squint and tilt my head, and then Google it on my phone to confirm or clarify (and would offer to share what I found if something interesting resulted).

In theory, I blatantly violated the rule, and this would be considered something you shouldn't do. On the other hand, I am A) older, and less likely to be accused of being hooked on Facebook, B) someone who had already established themselves as a good student, and C) I made a point to make it clear I was using my electronic device in a pro-social, pro-education, productive way, which added to the class in a positive manner. The result was the professor actually changed their policy to be explicit about not wanting devices to be used as a distraction or unrelated to class, instead of a blanket ban.

If you use any device in way that makes it clear you are not paying attention, engaging with the class, or generally are not respectful of the time and work being done by people you are present with, that is going to be correctly interpreted as rude and disrespectful. I don't particularly recommend having it out just to have it out, though - if you aren't going to use it in some way, just put it away because it's a waste of work space. But if you are indeed going to use it in class in an appropriate, productive way - and make sure it isn't going to make noise, even by vibrating on the table - there is nothing wrong with having the phone on the desk in most modern classroom environments. If the professor explicitly has a no device policy, then you can politely defer to it any put it away unless you want to make a point in some way.

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I'm not sure which is worse, interacting noticeably with a phone during class, or putting it in a pocket that's too small, or perching it on your chair and expecting it to stay put, resulting in a clattering drop on the floor, apologies and thanks to all your neighbors who dove for it, scraping their chairs in the process.

If it's not needed during class, why not turn it off and tuck it away neatly in your knapsack during class?

  • @PeteL.Clark - I thought cell phones were collected in a bin as students enter the exam room. Maybe that's wrong though. – aparente001 Feb 10 '17 at 5:12
  • @PeteL.Clark I have no idea if they go in a bin. Yes, I wrote "bin" but I have no idea. I thought phones might be checked at the door in some shape or fashion for some exams in some places, so I imagined some sort of container. // I have no idea how common it is to collect phones before an exam. The main point of my answer has gotten lost: if there is no particular reason not to stow the turned off phone in the knapsack, then that would be the best place for it during class. (Unless it is needed for recording or photographing, which isn't relevant for this question.) – aparente001 Feb 11 '17 at 2:04
  • Okay. I certainly agree with your edited answer, and I will remove the comments. – Pete L. Clark Feb 11 '17 at 2:38

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