If a cell phone goes off in professor John Sides’ class, the caller, not the student, will be answering to the instructor for it.
“If I can get to the phone before the person turns it off, I (answer it). Usually it rings, the class sucks in its breath, and the student usually turns it off in time,” said Sides, who teaches a television and politics class. “It’s been a few years since I’ve had a conversation.”
The political science teacher’s claim to all audible calls in class has been around since 1999, when more and more cell phones began showing up around campus. With the now-commonplace technology in almost every student’s pocket, teachers at GW are forced to deal with the occasional ring, melodic alert or digitized song.
Sides, who does not own a cell phone, said he usually gets a ring about once every two weeks. Mobile phones are not an “essential” piece of equipment, he said, but they have embedded themselves in all parts of society.
“I do really think (having a phone go off) is rude in a variety of social circumstances, especially in a class,” he said. “It’s okay if we have technological developments, but we need to learn to use them in a polite manner.”
Sides said he is the only professor he knows of who asks to speak to a classroom caller. Kip Lornell, a professor in the music department, also holds his students to the same rule.
“Well it just seemed like a good way to deal with what is usually an onerous situation,” said Lornell, who has a cell phone that he sometimes leaves on in class when his children are home sick.
Lornell said he even occasionally allows a fellow student to answer the phone, a situation where “anything can happen.” On the whole, the music professor said his conversations on students’ cell phones have been “nice.”
“One time someone’s roommate was calling, and I had an interesting conversation about when we were meeting later that day,” he said. “Thirty seconds later, she finally realized she wasn’t talking to the person she thought she was.”
Lornell said that he does not think students are trying to be rude by leaving their phones on, but he added that it is polite to turn the ring function off.
Craig Linebaugh, associate vice president for academic planning and special projects, said that while the University has no official policy on cell phones in classes, all students are encouraged to turn them off or to silent.
“Individual professors may set their own policies regarding cell phones in class, but it seems a matter of common courtesy … to turn off one’s cell phone so as not to introduce avoidable disruptions into the learning environment,” Linebaugh wrote in an e-mail.
Although some professors decide to take a strong stance on phones in class, Daina Eglitis, an assistant professor of sociology, asserts a more relaxed position.
“I don’t usually make a big deal about it,” she said. “I don’t think students leave them on to be rude.”
From a sociological standpoint, Eglitis said, new communication technologies have become normalized in everyday life, and a cell phone going off in class is hardly an unusual occurrence.
“I remember when I first started here in 1998, barely anyone had a cell phone,” she said. “Now sometimes you see a couple or two friends walking down the street, and you have to wonder if they’re talking to each other.”
Roberto Samaniego, assistant professor of economics and international affairs, said he thinks cell phones are more of a detriment to students in the class than to the professor. A loud ring may break the concentration in a classroom environment.
“I teach classes of up to 270 people and a little mistake is costly,” he said. “The trains of thought of 270 people cannot be derailed.”
Samaniego, who does not stay on top of his students when it comes to cell phones, admitted that his mobile phone rang in class once while he was giving a lecture on unemployment.
“It turns out that the person calling was someone who was just laid off,” said Samaniego, who did not take that call. “It probably would have been appropriate to pick up that time.”
But occasionally, professors themselves are guilty of violating cell phone etiquette.
“I can’t tell you how many professors I have that have their phones ring during class and who actually answer them,” sophomore Matt Alderman said. “They’re business professionals so they have to take the call.”
Alderman added that cell phones going off in class are not annoying, and he just imagines how “embarrassing” it must be for the person.
But sophomore Keri Almstead said that when a phone goes off in her class she just groans “come on.”
“I don’t think anyone intentionally leaves their phone on,” she said. “But it’s not the most polite way to approach the class.”