A digital device policy in the classroom

Over the years I have struggled with the issue of whether or not to ban cell phones or laptops. For me, whether or not to ban is the wrong question. A better question focuses on student learning, since I strongly believe in policies that support student learning in the classroom. I also strongly believe in treating my students like adults. 

I don’t mind cell phones in the classroom, I mind behavior that interferes with learning. So I crafted a digital device policy in the classroom that focuses on behavior instead of imposing bans two years ago.

I posted the digital device policy from my syllabi below. When I introduce the policy, I tell the students I expect them to be in categories 3 and 4. During the semester, I make sure to remind of the policy if there are many students who are not meeting expectations or acknowledge that the students are doing a great job by meeting expectations.

I’m more comfortable setting a clear policy that outlines expectations for behavior than a blanket ban. This also puts the students in charge of themselves.

It’s been two years, and I still like it. 

My digital device policy:

Laptops and tablets should be put away and closed if we are not using them for an in-class example. Research* shows that laptop use in class leads to lower grades for those with the laptops and even lower grades for those who are sitting by the laptop users due to the distractions they provide. I ask that you respect your peers’ desire to learn and not engage in distracting behavior in class. I understand that many of you like to follow along with the lecture notes on your tablet during class. I support the use of a laptops and tablets that are consistent with the course’s learning goals. I discourage taking notes during class using your laptop keyboard, since students frequently tell me they find typing noises during class to be extremely distracting.

* Sana, F., Weston, T. and Cepeda, N.J., 2013. Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers & Education, 62, pp.24-31.



Far Below Expectations




Meeting Expectations


Exceeding Expectations

Cell Phone / Laptop / Tablet / Device Use

In the real world, people have their phones and devices with them at their jobs, meetings, and courses. Adults do not have their devices taken away from them. They are expected to manage their own use and conform to professional expectations in every setting.



Use is inappropriate. Device is a distraction to others.


Example: A student plays games, views non-academic material, types (not for taking notes), reads non-academic articles, has text or chat conversations.




Use is distracting. Device is a distraction to the student. Student frequently checks phone or device during learning.


Example: A student takes out their phone to look at a text several times during a class period.



Device is not used except for designated appropriate times OR use is limited to a quick check of the phone during a transition or appropriate time.


Example: If a student receives an important message from a parent, they quickly check while still being engaged in class and with no distraction to others.


Device is not used except for as an efficient academic tool for a direct purpose. Devices are not a distraction and are used at appropriate times as an extension of work or learning.


Example: A student follows along with the lecture notes on a tablet and goes back a slide to correct a misconception about the lecture material. The student looks up the formula for the Binomial theorem for an in-class example, which is consistent with the course’s learning goals.


I use this meme in class, but fewer and fewer students know who Obi Wan Kenobi is:


This updates my previous post on my preliminary digital device policy.

What is your digital device policy?

2 responses to “A digital device policy in the classroom

  • Brian Borchers

    My policy is simply “You may use your laptops, tablets in class as long as it does not become a distraction to yourself or others. Please turn your ringer volume down to vibrate so that the class won’t be distracted by phone calls, texts, etc.”

  • cchristinektang

    I am guilty of being a “class clown” during online meetings. The chat feature is too tempting. I make jokes about the topic/operations research/system dynamics though. Need control…systems like yours 😉

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