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New app rewards students for staying off phones

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Credit: Photo illustration by Shawn Semmler / For The Lantern

Credit: Photo illustration by Shawn Semmler / For The Lantern

Students and smartphones make quite the team. Their phones can help them communicate with friends, check social media and shop online wherever they are — even in class.

Smartphones have the potential to distract students in class with the entertaining services they are able to provide.

But an app called Pocket Points aims to reward students for keeping their phones locked by giving them deals to local merchants, including Wendy’s, Ugly Tuna Saloona and Fourth Street Bar & Grill.

Launched in the fall of 2014, Rob Richardson and Mitch Gardner founded the app as students at California State University, Chico, said Brent Glowatch, a product developer and programmer at Pocket Points since 2015 and friend of Richardson and Gardner.

“We got some partners to come in who believed in us, and we were eventually able to push to Penn State, (California Polytechnic State University) and University of Colorado, Boulder,” Glowatch said.

Pocket Points now stretches all across the country from community colleges to major universities, including Ohio State, where it launched this fall.

Glowatch attributes the app’s success to a large amount of public relations and his company’s ability to get more than 1,000 merchants on board, as well as many schools, but he said he believes the greatest reason for its growing popularity is simply because it’s a good idea.

“Students like getting deals. They’re frugal,” Glowatch said. “We’re giving them an incentive to be doing what they should’ve been doing already.”

Ryan Dundon, a third-year in finance, has been using the app for two weeks now and is already reaping the benefits.

“You get 15 points to start off,” Dundon said. “I already bought a burger at Applebee’s for 10 points and I got 10 percent off of my check.”

Dundon found out about Pocket Points through one of his roommates and has been raking in the points ever since.

“I just start the app right when I get on campus and let it run as long as I can,” he said.

Dundon said he’s noticed that he is paying a lot more attention in class now that he isn’t constantly checking his phone.

Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology, said he believes that students using their phones in class is a bad idea in general.

“People think they can multitask, but research shows they cannot,” Bushman said.

Pocket Points might reduce the number of students trying to check their phones while their professors are lecturing.

Bushman said he thinks the app might be successful when students are truly driven by the restaurant deals, but generally it is better for students to have educational goals that are intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically motivated.

But some students said they think the rewards are effective motivating factors.

“If I wanted a burger from Wendy’s while in class and all it took was locking my phone for a while, I would definitely do it,” said Julien Baneux, a second-year in business and political science. “It really is a fantastic idea for an app.”

Baneux said, although he does not have the Pocket Points app, he thinks it’s interesting to see how new mobile trends are based on consumer habits.

“People look at the immediate rewards instead of long term ones,” he said.

Glowatch said his company will continue adding new merchants to its list and want to extend Pocket Points to high school campuses as well.

In the year that the app has been available for use, Glowatch said it has collectively kept students off their phones for more than 100 years.

“It’s free to download,” Dundon said. “You’re not wasting any time or money to use it. It’s just free discounts for paying attention in class.”

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