Hey, student! Your smartphone is ruining your education

‘Phones in the classroom – it’s all bad

A lot of universities are spending a lot of time and money trying to integrate technology, including smartphone use, into learning. Unfortunately, it seems that students prefer to use their smartphones for other things in the classroom as this piece from EAB notes.

Maximum distraction
Maximum distraction

The report quotes some research from a university in the US. According to this study, at Baylor University in Texas, students are spending an increasing number of hours on their ‘phones, threatening their academic performance. Admittedly, it’s a small sample but the researchers found:

students spent each day an average of:
94.6 minutes texting;
48.5 minutes on email;
38.6 minutes on Facebook; and
34.4 minutes surfing the web.
James Roberts, a marketing professor at Baylor who led the study, says he was astounded at the level of reported cellphone use. “As cellphone functions increase, addictions to this seemingly indispensable piece of technology become an increasingly realistic possibility,” he says.
According to the study, 60% of college students admit being addicted their cell phones, which can lead to personal and academic conflicts. “Cellphones may wind up being an escape mechanism from their classrooms. For some, cellphones in class may provide a way to cheat,” says Roberts.

Addiction is, of course, a strong word. Fortunately, we have an addiction consultant to comment:

Neal Berger, an addiction consultant, says many of his patients that seek treatment for addictions to alcohol or drugs also use their phones excessively. “There has been a few times where [leaving behind the cellphone] has been a greater source of anxiety than anything else,” he says.
Berger worries that providing electronic devices to people at a young age sets them up for addiction. “We have young people whose brains are literally being rewired according to digital technology,” he argues.

OK, I think the literal re-wiring of students brains is possibly a slight exaggeration but nevertheless there have clearly been some dramatic consequences as Sybil Harrison, director of learning services at Camosun College, notes:

“Last year, we had three students fall down the stairs because they were texting at the same time.”
However, Harrison says, there is “a whole spectrum of tolerance and acceptance of cellphones.” For example, she says bringing Twitter into the classroom can help engage students. “And to be fair, there have always been students who sit in classrooms and are completely disengaged,” she adds.

So that’s alright then. We’ve always failed to engage some students but now they’ve all got smartphones it’s clearly their own fault. As this more recent report from EAB demonstrates almost no-one is paying attention:

They are ALL checking their 'phones
They are ALL checking their ‘phones

Around 97% of college students use their phones during class for non-educational purposes, according to a study published last month in Journal of Media Education.
Forty-one percent of respondents said that they spent up to 10% of their classroom time using digital devices for non-educational purposes, and another 20% reported spending between 11% and 20% of class time on their devices. Only 3% said they do not use a device during class for non-class-related activities on a typical day.

About 90% of respondents said texting is their main distraction in classes. Other distractions included:

About 75% of respondents said they sent email or checked the time;
70% used social media during class time;
40% surfed the Internet; and
10% played games.

I’m not sure this is quite the edtech revolution that universities were hoping for. And it gets worse:

“Young people turn to digital media as an immediate way to relieve boredom and, sadly, the classroom is one of the environments in which they most commonly experience boredom,” says Scott Campbell, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan.

Education is basically boring then, at least for 97% of the student population. Still, according to the same piece of research, they all still get good grades so that has to be good news.

Perhaps the only way forward then is to follow Clay Shirky’s edict and ban all devices from the classroom. Try enforcing that one.

5 responses to “Hey, student! Your smartphone is ruining your education

  1. And if we ban devices such as tablets and smartphones from university meetings, then I wouldn’t have been able to read this instead of concentrating on this afternoon’s discussions on the PgR handbook at Quality Committee

  2. Wait until universities encounter financial incentives for demonstrating students’ learning gain. Then you’ll see students frisked for phones at the door.

  3. I’m a teacher on the secondary level,and I’m really at a loss with these phones. It’s hard t get students away from their devices and they are hooked and can’t stop. I’m thinking about leaving the profession it has me so frustrated. I’ve also learned to use smartboard and IPads t teach, but they still can’t be pulled away from the world of their own phones.

  4. We need to use all the resources we have for educational purposes, now that the use of smartphones is so pervasive, why not use them for teaching and learning purposes. We could have recorded lectures that students could listen to at anytime, anywhere. We need to think of teaching strategies that have not been thought yet.

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