WTMI

a young child texting on a cell phone

It seems like today's students are born with phones in their hands.

WTMI stands for Way Too Much Information, an example of shorthand commonly used for texting and instant messenger.  There are lots of others.  I frequently hear stories from students and colleagues about how proficient students are at texting.  Some can allegedly send text messages without taking the phone out of their pockets.  The mosquito ringtone — a ringtone so high-pitched that adults can’t hear it — is another means students have to covertly use their phones.

Many of our students (and many of us) use text messages everyday.  A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch reported on a study conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.  I wouldn’t say the study has way too much information, but there is a lot.

Among the findings: 75% of 12- to 17-year-olds own cell phones and 88% of teen cell-phone users text.  In fact, use of texting is so widespread that teens send more texts than they make phone calls.  Is this last part surprising?  Although I’m a relatively late adopter of texting, now that I use it, I find that I do text more frequently than I talk on my phone.

I’m not sure what percentage of schools ban cell phones, but 65% of cell-owning teens at those schools take their phone every day.  Obviously, we don’t ban phones at Ohio State, but the fact that 64% of teens with cell phones have texted in class and 25% have made or received a call during class is worth noting.

In addition to the startlingly large total numbers of texts (a third of teens who are texters send more than 100 texts a day; about 15% top 6,000 a month,) the increased use of texting and cell phones over the last five years is amazing.  In 2004, only 45% of teens owned cell phones (now 75%), and in 2006 only 51% of teens were texters (now 88%).

What are the ramifications for the classroom?  In our pre-college intensive ESL program (which is obviously very different from elementary and highschools,) cell phones are a part of students’ lives.  Very few have a traditional landline.  When possible, I try to embrace this technology.  For example, I had students use their phones in class to listen to the cellphone tours of the statues outside the Ohio Statehouse before a recent field trip.  Used in this way, cell phones could conceivably replace, or at least supplement, a traditional listening lab.

Students taking calls and sending texts is an obviously a distraction.  I usually take the opportunity to address classroom culture and etiquette, but it can be a constant classroom management struggle.

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