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Points for Pizza: App rewards students for staying off their phones in class

If students put their phones away for long enough, they can earn Franklin Street discounts. 

Pocket Points is a mobile app that debuted on campus in the fall of 2015. It rewards students for not using their phones in class by giving them points to unlock coupons for local businesses.

“The main purpose of Pocket Points is to enhance the students’ learning experience, as well as generate more business in the community by helping the business owners get the students more involved with the businesses,” said co-founder Mitch Gardner. 

Gardner said 5,000 UNC students are using Pocket Points.

Gardner said he and co-founder Rob Richardson thought of the idea for the app in 2014 while attending California State University, Chico. They noticed a problem with students focusing more on their phones than on their teachers. 

“The teachers come into it as well because if the students are not on their phones in class, it is a more productive class," Gardner said. "It’s just that win-win-win where the students are winning, the teachers are winning, and the small businesses are winning.”

Isabelle Morgan, a sophomore math and economics major, said she has used Pocket Points several times at Jasmin Mediterranean Bistro. 

“I definitely think it’s helpful to stay off your phone,” Morgan said. “It’s just an extra incentive to stay focused in class because that way you can, obviously, get money in a sense.” 

Journalism professor Rhonda Gibson said she finds phone usage particularly disturbing in large classroom settings. 

“It’s disrespectful. It means you are not learning anything, and it also means you are not contributing to the class — and that can be distracting when students around you can see what you’re doing,” Gibson said. 

Gibson said the ubiquity of social media and smart phones has increased phone usage in recent years, but she said she was surprised to hear about Pocket Points.  

“It just seems like a lot of hassle to go through to get a free pizza," she said.

“On the other hand, if they’re feeling a need, if people indeed want some kind of device or an app to help them leave their phone alone during class, and at the same time score free food or other free things, I don’t see the harm in it." 

Smoothie King Manager Kila Wooldridge said most of the discount app users that come in are from Hooked, but she sees seven or eight people from Pocket Points per 10-hour shift. Smoothie King offers a free small smoothie through the app, which she said is a good incentive for students to stay off their phones and stay focused. 

“It brings more people in, and they can see what we’re about and get our products and things like that,” Wooldridge said.

Gibson said the app has the potential to curb phone usage, just perhaps not in a huge way. However, she said she was interested in the idea of professors using the app.

“Maybe our dean should try to get professors to use it so that we won’t be on our phones during faculty meetings.” Gibson said. “Because I know I tend to pay attention to my phone a lot during faculty meetings and I know that’s probably not the best thing for me to do.”

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