I forced students to turn off their phones in class. Here's what happened next.

More than three quarters of young people describe themselves as "addicted" to their digital devices, and 97% of college students admit to using their phones during class.

Joelle Renstrom, a professor of creative writing at Boston University, explains in Business Insider how she got her students to turn off their phones when she's teaching.

Renstrom shares that she was concerned about the effect of technology in the classroom—particularly cell phones. A startup introduced her to high-tech pouches that lock smartphones inside and can't be unlocked without swiping them over a special metal base. Venue staff at Dave Chappelle and Alicia Keys have used the pouches at shows, placing the metal base outside the arena to prevent spectators from using their phones to record or otherwise distract from the performance.  

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Renstrom experimented with the pouches in her lectures to see if they would help her achieve a phone-free classroom. She gave each student a pouch and asked them to their silenced phones inside. When class was over, students unlocked the cases to retrieve their phones.

Students were skeptical at first. In response to a survey at the beginning of the semester, 37% of students said they were angry or annoyed by the new policy, and only 26% said the pouches would make the classroom free of distractions.

But by the end of the semester, many students had changed their minds. In a second survey, 52% of students said the pouches had achieved their purpose and only 14% felt negatively about the pouches.

Renstrom admits that some students tried to circumvent the policy. A few students put their phones inside the pouch without locking it, and others used their computers to check social media and send text messages.

However, Renstrom reports that most students followed the policy and thought more deeply about how phone usage impacts their lives as a result—her larger goal for the experiment. In one example, a student said she completely forgot about her phone after she placed it in the pouch under her desk. Another student said the experiment improved their understanding of just how much cell phones can dominate your life (Renstrom, Business Insider, 10/24).

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