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Dushan Milic/The Globe and Mail

When a U.S. psychology professor offered her students a bonus credit if they would silence and surrender their cellphones at the start of class, little did she know how rewarding the experiment would be.

Sixty-one per cent of her students at Columbia State Community College in Tennessee "loved the activity," citing the improved environment for concentration, participation and even peacefulness when the phones went dumb. Of the 82 students, not a single one disliked the exercise.

Beyond classrooms, it appears that business professionals don't want the devices at-play during meetings either.

A 2013 study done at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business found that of 554 working professionals, 86 per cent thought it was inappropriate to answer cellphones during formal meetings, 84 per cent considered it inappropriate to write texts or e-mails in meetings and 75 per cent thought it wasn't appropriate to read electronic messages. Respondents said such use indicated diminished respect, attention, listening skills and willpower on the part of the screen users.

In Canada, two business schools have somewhat different policies when it comes to technology in the classroom.

At Queen's School of Business in Kingston, where it's mandatory for students to have laptops, students are also allowed to bring their cellphones into the classroom.

But professors respond differently to the use of technology on their turf.

"It's very common for professors to feel pressure to tell students to put their phones down," says associate professor Kathryn Brohman. "We know using the phones is distracting to others."

Some professors who spot students using a phone will take their names and note the behaviour during grading. And attentive students, who don't appreciate the distraction, will sometimes elbow neighbouring digital distractors, Dr. Brohman says.

At the University of Victoria's Gustavson School of Business, cellphones and laptops are forbidden in the classroom unless the professor says otherwise, with the rules more lenient for MBA students, says associate professor Rebecca Grant.

Students don't often challenge the policy.

The ones who get caught in class looking at their e-mails, social media feeds, sports highlights or even risqué sites are called on it, says Dr. Grant, much to the appreciation of students disturbed by the screen addicts.

There might be a couple of complainers, but most students are thankful for the tech-turn-off policy.

Occasionally, Dr. Grant has had to provide recaps for students who refused to go offline but then appear after class, seeking an explanation of what they missed while they were online.

Male and female students are equally culpable.

"Ultimately, you do better if you're not distracted by devices when trying to learn," says Dr. Grant, who in 2012 was the recipient of Gustavson's business teaching excellence award.

A 2013 York University study backs up the learning theory. Students in one group used a laptop to take notes and were also instructed to do unrelated tasks on their computer that mimicked what distracted students would do in class.

A second group used pen and paper to take notes but were sitting near students using laptops.

The first group scored 11 per cent lower than their existing average on a quiz while the second group scored 17 per cent lower, apparent proof of the distracting effect of devices.

Teaching since 2000, Dr. Brohman remembers when students took notes by hand, and when apps and Facebook were unknown quantities.

"Your social community stopped when you entered the classroom," she says. "Today, there's no break from social responsibilities."

For educators, "It was easier to get your point across 15 years ago," she says.

Aware of competing interests in today's classroom, professors have had to change how they teach to keep students agog. "We call it 'edutainment,'" Dr. Brohman says. With today's digitally distracted students, professors have to be funnier or more entertaining than the students' friends or other professors.

Dr. Brohman uses humour and walks around a lot in class, injecting more energy into class materials than she did a decade ago.

(That said, there's a danger that popular, wise-cracking professors aren't necessarily the best, she cautions.)

Gustavson's professors have discretion with the no-technology rule and certain professors, some of them not wanting the hassle, don't care if students use gadgets in class. "Some don't see it as a disruption," Dr. Grant says.

But, when Gustavson invites guests to speak to business students, visitors are offended when students tap while the guest talks.

On the Rate My Professor website, one of Dr. Grant's former pupils warned readers to "STAY OFF YOUR PHONE. You will end up in her bad books."

A fourth-year commerce student at Gustavson values the low-tech classroom. "I definitely prefer not having laptops in class," says Jordyn Hrenyk, 21. "It's distracting if the people in front of you are on Facebook or Twitter."

While she doesn't think her generation is reliant on technology, her peers are used to having a screen at the ready. "I'm not used to putting my phone away but I can do it for one hour," she says.

At Queen's, Dr. Brohman plans to give her first-year business students the article from professor Louise Katz's experiment at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, Tenn.

Dr. Brohman's message: "When you don't bring your laptop or phone to class, you do better."