Pocket Points app rewards students for staying off their cellphone

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Students go to class to learn, yet most of them just go on their phones during lectures. 

Science News for Students reported college students use their cellphone around nine hours per day. Two college students at California State University, Chico—Rob Richardson and Mitch Gardner—saw a problem with the distraction cell phones cause in the classroom so they came up with a solution. In 2014, the duo created and launched Pocket Points, a free app that rewards students for staying off their smartphones in class. 

To use it, students simply open the app and lock their phone. The app tracks how long the phone stays locked and the student earns points accordingly. Points can then be redeemed for discounts and free items at restaurants like Tropical Smoothie Café, Swig, and Honolulu Grill. They can also be redeemed at select online retailers through the app.

Bryar Topham, a junior business administration major from Delta, has gotten free pizza, yogurt, cookies and other discounts through Pocket Points.

Topham said he was always using his phone inside of class and outside of class, but Pocket Points helps him focus on lectures and even encourages him to be more social. He turns it on whenever he’s on campus, even between classes or while studying at the library.

“I feel like our entire generation has a phone addiction,” Topham said.

According to the PEW Research Center, “67 percent of smartphone owners have admitted to checking their phone for calls or messages when their phone hasn’t vibrated or made any noise.” The research also showed that it is a sign of cell phone dependence, and should serve as a warning to the user.

Topham said he has to put his phone on “do not disturb” mode so he doesn’t get notifications at all; because even when he locks his phone using Pocket Points, he’s still tempted to unlock it when it lights up.

For Chelsea Ponce, a junior media studies major from Quito, Ecuador, curbing her cell phone addiction was a big concern. She said she would respond to texts or surf social media when classes got boring. When she heard about Pocket Points from a friend, she gave it a try. Ponce said since she’s downloaded it, the app has helped her with her problem.

“You still want to look at your phone, but because it’s like a game you just look at it and [remember] ‘I’m earning points, so I’m just going to stay off; I can do it,’” Ponce said.

Topham said one of the most rewarding parts of the app is not the discounts, but seeing his name on the leaderboard—a list of the people with the highest scores. For him, the feeling of accomplishment is motivating and rewarding enough.

Participation in class discussion is another area Topham said he has seen improvement in since he started using Pocket Points. He said it saves him the embarrassment of having a professor call on him to answer a question when he’s clearly distracted by his phone. 

Russ Cashin, a college of humanities adjunct professor, said it takes away from the lecture when students text. His policy prohibits phone use during class time, but some students still use their devices. Cashin does allow students to take notes on their laptops, but that can sometimes interfere with learning as well.

 “The phone use is a bigger problem,” Cashin said. “If they’re on the phone texting or typing, then they’re not paying attention to me and it distracts from the lecture.”

He said it seems like people use technology to replace knowledge. Instead of putting in the work to figure something out, people usually just look it up online. It’s taking away from memory and social interaction, Cashin said.

However, Cashin feels the benefits of technology can outweigh the distraction when managed properly. A learning management system like Canvas is an example of a constructive use of technology, he said.

Really, the use of technology is up to the students. It is their decision to pay attention to his lectures, or not, Cashin said.

“Even if class might not seem interesting sometimes, we’re here to learn and the phone is a big distraction,” Ponce said.

Topham agreed and said it’s up to each individual what he or she does during class time.

“It’s on the students to manage themselves,” Topham said. “If they want to be on their phones the whole time, they’re going to get less out of the class and that’s on them; it’ll reflect on their grades.”