Heads or Tails: Psychology Faculty ‘Flip’ Over Cellphones in Class

By RetterJ | August 1, 2018

By Nicole Gieselman ’19

Two Arcadia faculty members are turning heads with a new method of eliminating unnecessary cellphone use in classrooms: positive reinforcement.

“It can be really disheartening, as a professor, when you put so much time and effort into your course, and you see students on their phones,” said Dr. Alison Clabaugh, adjunct professor of Psychology, who teamed up with Assistant Professor Dr. Erica Fortune to turn their frustrations into a pedagogical experiment.

During the 2017-18 academic year, Drs. Clabaugh and Fortune tested different methods of discouraging cellphone use in six course sections of Introduction to Psychology. Two sections served as controls, while two classes were shown PowerPoint presentations to hinder cell use. The final sections, one each semester, were given the opportunity to turn in their phones at the start of each class. Students who did so qualified for an extra credit point at the end of the lecture—that is, if they called the outcome of a coin flip correctly.

Despite the low stakes—participating students only received about a 2 percent grade increase at the end of the semester—more than 95 percent of pupils accepted the challenge. Exit reports at the end of the course indicated that students not only enjoyed the experiment, but felt the benefits of limiting technological distractions as well.

Drs. Clabaugh and Fortune were invited to present “Different Approaches to Controlling Technology Use in the Classroom” at Duke University’s Psych One Conference from June 28 to 29 in North Carolina. The two-day event gathered Intro to Psychology professors from all corners of the country to discuss classroom techniques and innovative approaches to one of the most popular University courses in the nation. Drs. Clabaugh and Fortune were the first Arcadia faculty members to attend this prestigious event.

Although they don’t plan to repeat the experiment next year, Drs. Clabaugh and Fortune both look forward to implementing positive reinforcement to limit cell use in future psychology courses.

“The idea of combating student cell phone use is so ubiquitous and so frustrating for many people,” said Dr. Fortune. “I’m hopeful other faculty in and out of the department will hear about our research and take notice.”