Battling the Cell Phone Menace in Class for a Decade Now

Facebook’s wayback machine (“On this Day” app) reminded me this morning that I have been battling students using their cell phones in class for a long time now.

I know some professors don’t care if students use their phones in class. Fine by me; their class, their rules. And some are just unaware. Many Wake Forest students, including my now graduated son Paul, text me from their classes. But I find it distracting. So, I have tried to dissuade students from using their phones in class for some time.

I put a special note in my syllabus, highlighted in red(dish) so it cannot be missed (above). And I make clear in the grading rubric for class participation the penalty for using phones in class.

And still students use their phones in class, and then complain to me at the end of class when I penalize them for doing so. (Among other things they complain about with respect to their class participation grades.)

So this year I’ve decided to try to triple reinforce my expectations by having students sign and initial that they have read and understand the class expectations. We’ll see what difference it makes.

Data on Gender Segregation in Occupations (2012)

Teaching Arlie Hochschild’s The Managed Heart in my sociological theory class recently, I was looking for data on the percentage of flight attendants today who are male. I found a nice post on the issue by Mona Chalabi (“Dear Mona”) on the FiveThirtyEight blog. Answer: In 1980, 14.3 percent of flight attendants were male; in 2012, 24.2 percent.

Chalabi also provided this really helpful graphic showing the percentage of U.S. workers who are male in a huge number of job sectors, from least male (kindergarten and earlier school teachers – 2.3%) to most male (boilermakers – 99.8%).

chalabi-datalab-flightattendants-2

Gun Digest Magazine Shows How NOT to Create a Pie Chart

Thumbing through the February 13, 2014 issue of Gun Digest magazine, I was excited to see data on a recent survey of first-time gun buyers, attributed to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the shooting, hunting and firearms industry.

Two pie charts, shown below, describe (1) the percentage of new shooters who engage in certain activities (target shooting, hunting, plinking, etc.), and (2) how frequently new shooters shoot.

These are both very important pieces of information, but what’s wrong with this picture?

Gun Digest magazine, 13 February 2014, p. 11
Gun Digest magazine, 13 February 2014, p. 11

If you answered that the pieces of the pie chart do not add up to a meaningful whole, you are correct. The first pie chart totals 264% and the second totals 80.3%. A meaningful whole in this case would be 100% of new shooters.

Pie charts are appropriate visual displays of information when we want to show the relative sizes or proportions of different phenomena as a part of a fixed whole. If one slice of the pie grows, another slice has to shrink. You can’t just expand the pie (to 264%). If you remove a slice of the pie, the other slices have to grow. You can’t just shrink the pie (to 80.3%).

A pie chart is not appropriate for a situation in which a single respondent can choose more than one category (a new shooter can be a target shooter and a hunter and a plinker, for example). Or when there are categories of responses that are not displayed (19.7% of new shooters shoot less than once a week or did not respond to this particular question, we can infer). In these cases, a bar chart is more appropriate to display the relative sizes of phenomena.

For a really excellent discussion of pie charts and their potential pitfalls, see “Understanding Pie Charts” on the eagereyes blog.

Ten Essential Observations on Guns in America by James D. Wright

In my introduction to sociology class this week, I am discussing sociologist James D. Wright’s classic essay, “Ten Essential Observations on Guns in America” (from Society March/April 1995, reprinted in Guns in America: A Reader).

Among his points: “There are 200 million guns already in circulation in the United States. . . . firearms are the most commonly owned piece of sporting equipment in the United States.” [Note: 270-300M today]

“Most of those 200 million guns are owned for socially innocuous sport and recreation purposes. . . . Gun ownership is … more appropriate to the sociology of leisure than to the criminology or epidemiology of violence.”

“Many guns are also owned for self-defense against crime, and some are indeed used for that purpose; whether they are actually any safer or not, many people certainly seem to feel safer when they have a gun.”

“Most of the gun violence problem results from the wrong kinds of people carrying guns at the wrong time and place.” Or as Canadian journalist Daniel Gardner says in The Science of Fear, “if you are not a drug dealer or the friend of a drug dealer, and you don’t hang out in places patronized by drug dealers and their friends, your chance of being murdered with a handgun shrinks almost to invisibility.” Or as Gun trainer John Farnham says: “Don’t go stupid places or do stupid things with stupid people.” This lowers your risk of homicide substantially, whether you have a gun or not.

“Everything the bad guys do with their guns is already against the law.” To wit: Sandy Hook shooter shot his mother (murder), illegally transported firearms into a gun free zone, etc. (some say he violated as many as 40 laws).

The first law of economics: “Demand creates its own supply.” Outlawing alcohol didn’t work, making certain drugs illegal hasn’t kept them out of the United States. If cocaine can make it from Colombia to Chicago, who thinks guns won’t make it from Brazil to Chicago?

“Guns are neither inherently good nor inherently evil; guns, that is, to not possess teleology.”

“Guns are important elements of our history and culture. . . .restrictions on the right to ‘keep and bear arms’ amount to the systematic destruction of a valued way of life and are thus a form of cultural genocide.”

Questions and Answers

Yesterday was the first day of classes for the semester, and my first day of classes ever, at Wake Forest University. Which raises a number of questions that I’ll try to answer quickly. Further observations will no doubt be posted as I make them.

How’s the weather?

It depends on what you like. You probably wouldn’t like it unless you like 60-70 degrees and sunny during the second week of January. Tennis, anyone?

How was the first day of class?

OK, the first day of class was not without its challenges. Monday night, because I was nervous/excited about my first day of classes at Wake Forest, I couldn’t fall asleep right away. So, I turned on the TV and got caught up in a bizarre episode of “The Surreal Life” with Peter Brady and Mini-Me and one of the non-famous women from the Go-Go’s. So, I didn’t log many hours of sleep before my first classes, but the adreneline carried me through.

I am teaching introductory sociology and a sociology of religion course, both of which I’ve taught many times before, so there won’t be too much heavy lifting involved in terms of the course material. Of course, there’s a great expenditure in energy in actually conducting class. I have a 9:30 am class, then two hours of office hours, then a 1:30 pm class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Right after my afternoon class dismisses, I go and meet Chipper and Beth at the bus stop. Which is just as well since I am totally spent after that much time teaching. (How teachers who teach all day, five days a week do it, I am not sure!)

Not surprisingly, I’ve encountered various technical problems related to being a new faculty member starting in January, rather than August like most of the new folks. For example, I was told to save on copying expenses by emailing my syllabi to my class roster, but I couldn’t access my class roster until Tuesday. Students in my intro soc class told me they couldn’t get the textbook at the bookstore, so I called and was told that only 14 of 35 copies had arrived. It apparently didn’t concern anyone at the bookstore until I called. They ordered another 21 copies, to arrive today or tomorrow (hopefully), but because the students have an assignment to do for Thursday, I had to make photocopies of the first chapter. Of course, a student then pointed out that the assignment for Thursday requires them to consult another chapter of the textbook, so I had to find the graphic I refer to and put it up on the course web site. For my religion class, I assigned five books, so I can only imagine what sort of mess awaits me there. A couple of students have already said that two of the books are sold out. With my luck, it will be the book we are using next week!

On the positive side, both of the classrooms I teach in are in the same building as my office, so I just need to walk around the corner to get there. And both have good technology. I can bring my laptop to class and easily project images or videos, and I can play music, which I love. In both classes we listened to Petey Pablo’s “Raise Up” (homage to North Carolina). In my religion class we also listened to Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” (for obvious reasons), and in intro we listened to Alanis Morissette’s “You Learn” (stresses that learning an active and relational process).

Now, if I could just get a replacement battery for the piece of crap they put in my third generation iPod, I can just leave my computer behind and play music directly from that.

What are the students like?

I haven’t had too much direct interaction with the students yet, but they are similar to students at Our Lady’s University in some ways and different in others.

The biggest similarity I immediately noticed is that the students travel in packs. Almost everyone in class, it seems, is taking the class with a friend, roommate, teammate, or frat/sorority brother/sister. The students also wear “hang dog” faces in class. I mean, the atmosphere just feels so heavy when I walk in the classroom. Maybe I need to play some more raucous music at the start to pep things up. I’ll experiment with Trick Daddy’s “Let’s Go” and Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started” on Thursday. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

The feeling I get in class raises a question, though, which I also had at OLU : why do people who live such privileged lives seem so somber? Like the weight of the world is on their shoulders, when their biggest concern of the day isn’t how to eat but what to eat. (I should add that I am guilty of this same thing myself.)

Among the differences I’ll be watching are:

(1) Regional differences. The three best represented states so far are Florida, New Jersey, and North Carolina. At OLU, I had the most students from Indiana, Illinois, and New York.

(2) Religious differences. At OLU, I had 80-90% Roman Catholics. Here, the predominant religious group is Baptist, followed Episcopalians. I was surprised by the Episcopalians, but it makes sense if the university draws from rich, Southern families. Here at Wake Forest, I also have a diverse group of other religions represented (Jewish, Christian Science, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, nondenominational, Methodist, Lutheran, and even a couple of stray “Romans”).

(3) Fraternities and sororities. I had pairs of sorority sisters in my classes — evident from their t-shirts — which definitely got my attention. There are no greeks at OLU and greek life was not big at my alma mater, UC-Berkeley. All I really know about them is that two of my friends at Berkeley lived in a sorority because the house had extra rooms. Not exactly a center of campus life, at least not back then. So, we’ll see what effect that has on campus life.

Well, that is all that you need to know about my first day of class at Wake Forest University — and more.