In recent years, I've run into a problem in the classroom that has been around for a long time, but has a variety of new incarnations with the arrival of iPods, cellphones, and so on. I've never made a big deal in class when someone's cell phone rings, because I've forgotten to turn mine off at inopportune times as well. However, I've had students take calls in the middle of class and leave the room, text their friends, play games on their phones, and so on in recent years. Sometimes this distracts others (the calls), while other times it distracts only me (playing games). So, I've decided to institute a "Class activity" grade.
The following statement now appears on my lower-level course syllabi, in order to give me a little more power in dealing with recalcitrant students:
This portion of your grade will be positively impacted primarily by coming to class and making positive contributions to in-class discussion. Other positive aspects include e-mail discussions and office visits that demonstrate you are thinking about the material in a substantial manner. Ways that this portion of your grade can be negatively affected include your cell phone ringing in class, talking on your cell phone, texting, reading the newspaper, sleeping, or any other sort of disruptive class behavior.
It seems that the downside of this is that on the first day of class, it could set an adversarial tone. I try to avoid this by injecting some humor into the class when I discuss this aspect of their grade. I also tell them that I'll understand if their phone rings once in class, but if it goes on it will hurt this portion of their grade.
How do others handle this issue?