Two California State University students have developed a mobile app designed to encourage their peers to pay more attention in class. Students who keep their phones locked during lectures earn points that accumulate to obtain price reductions at local businesses.

Earn redeemable points by ignoring your smartphone during class

Whether in class, at the office, or on the road, smartphone owners tend to check their device compulsively at all times, which is likely to break their attention span. To try and remedy the situation two students at the California State University in Chico decided to create a mobile app that would encourage students to stop using their smartphones when they are supposed to be listening to the lecturer. The paradox is, as Pocket Points co-founder Mitch Gardner points out:  “We’ve created the only app in the world that rewards people for not using it.”

No phones in class

Since launching in September, the Pocket Points app has spread its simple concept to other US universities. The idea is to discourage students from using their smartphones when they ought to be following the lecture. The system rewards those who manage to keep their devices locked with money-off deals at local businesses, especially eateries. A student can download the Pocket Points app free of charge and then, once in class, open up the app and then lock his/her phone. The aim is to gain a maximum number of points by not unlocking your phone. The longer it stays locked, the more reward points you earn, at the rate of one point for every twenty minutes that your phone stays locked. The more people use the app on campus, the faster they accumulate points. The app uses geolocation and only works while the student is actually on campus.

Redeeming points at local businesses

Points can be redeemed at local participating stores and restaurants in the campus neighbourhood. Fifteen points will for example pay for breakfast in the cafeteria, or get you a 20% discount at the bookshop. In this way, Pocket Points is offering local businesses a new advertising channel, targeting students up close and personal – a promising alternative to stuffing flyers in letterboxes. Pocket Points might be on to a triple-win solution: it helps out impecunious students (if they have the willpower to lay off the phone for a while), promotes local businesses and may well prove a boon to university lecturers who are tired of seeing rows of students with their eyes riveted on their smartphones during class. The app already has around 3,000 users at the Chico campus where it was first launched, plus fifteen local business partners, and has now spread to four other universities.

By Eliane HONG