I Swear I’m Not Playing With My Phone

Smartphone with finance and market icons and symbols concept

I spend a lot of time looking at my phone and tablet. Probably too much time. Some of the time I spend looking at screens happens during meetings.

This rarely goes over well.

I can feel the looks. The judgement. Thoughts so loud they’re audible, “He’s probably screwing around on Facebook instead of paying attention.”

But I’m not. I swear I’m not screwing around on my phone. I’m certainly not looking at Facebook. The only reason I’d do that is to remember why I don’t look at Facebook (hint- it’s because I want to continue to like some of my friends).

I’m taking notes. I’m looking up the person who wrote the article you’re referencing. I’m taking pictures of the graph you’re showing in case this slidedeck doesn’t come with a link. I’m looking at corgi pictures on Instagram because you just read us three slides of text and I thought I might die.

For many teachers, the technology revolution is here. It’s been here for years. We’re in it and we’re living it. I’ve said many times that Google Drive has saved my life. I type all my notes out on Drive. Why? In one word- autosave. Every time Drive’s mobile app updates I do a little dance of joy because that’s just the kind of nerd I am.

We of the digital revolution are not yet the majority. Teachers and districts talk a big game about being up on the revolution, but not all have internalized what that means. It means giving a presentation to a room full of people looking back and forth between you and a screen. I do a decent amount of speaking to rooms full of teachers and I still think that’s strange. As a communicator you want to make eye contact with your audience. As a presenter you want to know they’re engaged and coming with you. And when you see the tops of heads and glowing faces you kind of suspect they are checking Facebook while you’re busy working very hard to be interesting.

Perhaps the key is to put the onus on the presenter to make her/his technology usage requests clear. In my first five minutes should I tell my audience, “I realize you’re taking notes with your device and that’s cool, but try to stay with me. You’re going to miss the meat if you’re busy trying to tweet the appetizers.” I believe you should never livetweet a movie the first time you see it. Then you’re not being in the movie, you’re commenting on it. Livetweeting a keynote would be a similar thing. Someone is Periscoping it, find the feed afterwards and tweet the greatest hits. Tweeting is not notetaking. To me. I just felt myself get older when I typed that though, so what does Grandpa Robertson know?

I look at my phone during trainings and meetings. I need to develop the technology self-control to not be checking twitter while I’m taking notes in Docs. Presenters and administrators need to have the self-assurance that the audience is exercising that same self control.

A man in jeans sits with a telephone, a notebook and a device to vote

It’s a strange balancing act right now. The Tech Forward Teachers are modeling responsible usage for the skittish and downright anti-tech among us. It’s not going away, we know that and they know that, even if they don’t want to admit it. But everyone motivates in different ways, and pushy doesn’t move product like polite. When I’m quote unquote taking notes on my phone I had better be taking notes on my phone. Show the teachers who look annoyed at my tap-tap-tapping (swype-swype-swyping go Android) that my notes are as good as their notes and mine can be projected on the screen and shared in a snap. We want them to join us, entice with the candy of ease and not the fear of being left behind. Model good digital citizenship in meetings.

If we can’t do it, how can we be expected to trust our kids to pull it off?

I’d love to see some conversation about this in the comments. How do you feel about taking digital notes? How do you feel about livetweeting a speaker?


catDoug Robertson is the CUE blog editor and a tenth-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of two books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome) and an active blogger. Doug speaks at teaching conferences including CUE Rock Star Teacher Camps, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words).  Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST. He’s probably trying not to check his phone right now.

12 thoughts on “I Swear I’m Not Playing With My Phone”

  1. I definitely live-tweeted the last seminar I was at. In hindsight, I remember what I wrote down and not so much what I tweeted. I think hand-writing notes has certain benefits that typing them doesn’t, and typing notes has benefits that handwriting doesn’t (like, readability. Don’t ever try to read my notes.)
    The other determining factor should be the type of presentation. If it’s sit-and-get, do whatever it takes to pay attention. That might be drawing dinosaurs attacking the bar graphs. (It is for me.) If it’s a live discussion though, a screen will inhibit conversation, so avoid it, or use your device to record it for later (if you can). If it’s a tutorial or walk-through or hands-on learning experience, there is less need for note-taking, unless you’re going back and writing down your steps for later review.
    Lastly, I think you make an important point about what the presenter shares. Sometimes you have to take your own notes because there are no notes given or no way to re-view the presentation, but sometimes there are handouts or books and then it’ll be on YouTube later and you can relive the whole experience. If I’m given resources or I know there will be an easy reference later, I’m less inclined to take my own notes, unless it’s something not in the handout, or the handout is different from the slideshow and I’m noting new or updated information.
    So, as far as note-taking goes, I think it all depends.

  2. My 16 year old got caught looking at a website and looking at her phone last week. Her school has a 1 to 1 Chromebook deployment in place. The punishment for these two infractions? Three detentions! It’s in the student handbook. And…. school had only been in session for about a week.

    Would love to know more schools are handling these types of situations. I want to be supportive, but this seemed a little over the top.

  3. Very interesting and insightful read. BTW I mean interesting in a good way.

    I identify with many of these traits, of using the technology at hand. Trying to make the most out of our knowledge base, aka my phone.

    Thanks for posting on Twitter and telling me to read and comment, if I was reading this from my phone.

    Btw I am really bad at typing on my phone.

  4. I’m a note taker, a doodler, and a tweeter. So naturally I have fallen in love with sketchnoting. And if I’m in a particularly good mood, I just might tweet my sketchnote. For me I listen a lot better while I write notes and sketch. It may look like I’m not listening, but I am… intently… and reflecting. Even if what I am learning is boring, I can jazz it up in my sketchnotes to entertain myself. We need to be open to our audience and understand we all learn differently, even adult learners. I think the worst way to begin teaching is to say… please close your laptops. This happened to me recently at a PD event. We weren’t allowed to use our “computers” to even take notes. Seems such a strange request this day and age.

  5. Interesting thoughts about tweeting… I take notes on concepts I want to remember. I tweet powerful, concise quotes I hear. Now I am going to be hypersensitive and over analyze everything I do when listening and when speaking. Great. Thanks. Really.

    But it does need to be said that adults are making the same shift we want students to take. The teachers who don’t want to see it in the classroom probably don’t want to see it in staff meetings and keynotes, either. Oh well.

  6. One thing that makes it easier I think to take notes and live tweet a keynote or any session for that matter if you are doing a group google doc. I have found it helpful to have different people taking notes on the same doc so I can see what other people are picking up from the talk. It also allows you to tweet those concise statements while simultaneously not missing out any of the main points.

    1. That is both really interesting and cool, and sounds like so much going on to me at the same time. I do think taking notes on a Doc is the way to go though, especially if you can use your phone. I’m not sure if a room full of the tap tap tap of note takers would be distracting or not? It’s a new world!

  7. I retired this Spring after 42 years in education as a teacher, administrator (schools and districts), and university faculty. For each of those 42 years, I taught at one level or the other, middle, HS, and university. I’m pretty sure there is no difference between then and now – there were always students reading comics, passing notes, sleeping with their eyes open, or whispering to their neighbor. I have also probably led several hundred workshops for teachers where I saw the exact same behaviors. My point is, we can not control human nature, as much as educational policy would like us to. Learning is a magical process that happens inside the learner’s head, not the teacher’s. Learners select to learn out of interest and or need, not out of requirement. Our only task is to attempt to make the opportunity for learning more compelling than Facebook (or whatever…). Compelling means something that would be interesting enough to the audience/classroom/listeners to have them retain some of it. If a teacher/presenter can’t be compelling from a perspective of personal interest then they have to use brute force and turn off or prevent the use of devices, have students place all materials below their desks, face forward, hands on desk, or else detention (sorry Lucy!). Control is an illusion, especially with learning. Let’s make learning more interesting, intriguing, meaningful, and quit worrying about absolute control. I always told my students, if they needed to go online because my courses were boring, please feel free. But then I rarely lectured, most classes were either project based or student led (and for some reason students seemed to listen to each other more than me!)

  8. Ok, I am not a note taker. Just give me the Ppt Keynote, link to Google, whatever. Yes, I am checking my phone but usually looking up the links, references, or other facts the speaker has mentioned. I may jot down a point or two. The fact is I have an astounding visual and audio memory. So does my dad. People hate that. Don’t ask me to be the one to take notes at meetings you will be sadly disappointed. I never get those people who are typing constantly and never looking up. I want to be an active participant. If I am on Facebook then the person (certainly no one of Doug’s caliber) is boring and wasting my time.

  9. Thank you for finally saying it!! A presentation is so much richer when you google, tweet, or take notes about the person or topic referenced.
    What do we teachers always say about learning? Participating and engaging kids makes them remember more. (just in case you forgot.) Googling allows me to be engaged and remember when I am just sitting and listening!

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