The Digital World In the Space of Learning


I sit in class, trying to focus on the assignment in front of me when I hear my teacher say, “Put your phones away!” for the fourth time this period. I look up and see that more than half of my classmates are staring into their phones, too invested in them to care about the lesson. I look back down to my work, trying as best as I can to focus as a student starts arguing with my teacher. 

Excessive cell phone usage has been occurring in many of my classes ever since in-person learning has resumed at Francis Lewis High School after the pandemic . It has disrupted the teachers from fulfilling the lesson and has been a constant distraction. It just feels like students are trapped in their own digital world with no consciousness about the world around them.

“I get distracted,” senior Katie Zheng said. “Sometimes I look over and I see someone using their phones and I keep looking over. When there’s disruptions because of the phone it can cause loss of class time. I found that these disruptions can lead me to lose my train of thought.”

In a study conducted by Harvard, it is found that “…multitasking generally finds negative effects on learning and task completion…”  Therefore, a student might not be able to handle many things at once, due to the fact that they could be distracted and have their mind on different things rather than their educational tasks.

“Some students are very used to getting unfocused and looking at their phones and looking at social media or chatting,” guidance counselor Mr. Versategui said. “That can definitely affect students’ learning. It can definitely lead to lower grades and inattentiveness in classes.”

Guidance counselor Ms. Shaw sees a correlation between the brevity of social media and the lack of attention students give to longer tasks in school, such as reading. 

“I referenced Tik Tok because those videos are probably like 15-30 seconds long,” Ms. Shaw said. “It is so easy to just keep swiping through. Staring at a book for 30 minutes, reading a textbook, you’re not interested in it because you want to pick up your phone and go text or go on Instagram as opposed to staring at something that may not interest you as much.”

Francis Lewis High School has a strict policy of no cell phone use in the classroom, unless the device is being used a for educational purposes.  Teachers can post a notice on the door of their classroom to alert deans or other faculty that students are using cell phones appropriately for the lesson.  

“I think we all as a school have to be on the same page with what were doing,” English teacher Ms. Andriotis said. “Some teachers might allow the students to be on their phone or might not enforce the school rules, so that I think not being on the same page makes it harder to enforce.”

Senior Fernando Ramirez believes that involving more technology into the lessons would help engage students more.

“I personally feel like using laptops in class can help us be more engaged,” Ramirez said. “If I do use my phone, it’s basically always just to listen to music as I feel that it helps me focus.  Also, I sometimes use it to search up something that I don’t know or something that I want to know more about.”

Many teachers implement steps in the cell phone policy before confiscating the phone and reporting it to a dean.

“So we have a policy now,” mathematics teacher Ms. Wattoo said. “The first time you get warned, the second time we take your phone and hold onto it and you get it back at the end of class, and the third time it goes down to the dean’s office. We haven’t had to send anybody’s phone down to the dean’s office, so I think it’s working okay.”

Students have found multiple ways to hide their cell phones in class and avoid the repercussions of Francis Lewis’ cell phone policy. 

“Students try to hide their usage of electronics by using their bags or their arms to cover their phones,” senior Sarah Pirzada said. “Students may hide their phone under their notebook or use the computer screen to hide their phone.  Students can also have an airpod in, but use their hair to cover it.”

Teachers and students struggle with this problem on an everyday basis. Teachers are constantly disrupted to deal with students who use their phones in class, which leads to less time learning and more time calling deans.

“It is very distracting having the kids repeatedly on their phones and I have to stop the class and call the deans and have phones confiscated,” Ms. Andriotis said. “This is the first year I’ve ever had this many phones taken away, about 10.”

In a study conducted by ScienceDirect, researchers discovered a negative relationship between cell phone us and a student’s academic performance.  For example, every 100 minutes that a student spent using their phone a day lead to the student dropping 6.3 places in terms of their academic school ranking. This effect was doubled when the students used their phone whilst actually in class.

“I think because students are so busy figuring out what the heck they’re doing on TikTok or messaging their friends and whatever it is, that half of them don’t even pay attention to what’s going on in class,” Ms. Wattoo said. “They’re not even taking notes so when they go back and study they have nothing to study from, cause they haven’t even taken any notes.”

Ramirez acknowledges how important technology has become to his generation as electronics continue to consume the daily of lives of most teenagers.

“I understand both parties are involved,” Ramirez said. “My generation has grown up with technology and it has become a big part of our daily lives. We’ve grown so accustomed to our phones that it can sometimes be hard to put them down.”