Digital Distractions

The inclusion of technology in the classroom has shown to be beneficial in moving education forward. However, there has been a growing concern about how problematic digital devices can be when used for other reasons besides classwork.

In a study conducted by Douglas K. Duncan, Angel R. Hoekstra, and Bethany R. Wilcox from the University of Colorado, an undisclosed large state university in the western United States was put through a series of tests to determine if digital devices, specifically cell phones and laptops, were the cause of lower test grades and student performance.

The research took place over two semesters and almost 400 students were studied. Each classroom used a variety of methods to test student engagement and participation, including using clickers, Peer Instruction, having notes available online, and using different lecture presentation styles. Students, who were unaware of the study, naturally chose their preferred methods of engagement, including taking notes with pen and paper, laptops, and mobile devices, while some did not take notes at all.

When results were presented to students and faculty, many believed that laptop usage hindered student performance because of how susceptible students were to being distracted by going online, playing games, etc. The researchers also learned that mobile devices, and not laptops, were the preferred digital device to bring to class.

A large majority of students that were sampled reported regular cell phone use during lectures and the research exposed a very interesting correlation between cell phone and grade point average. Of the students who never used their cell phones during lectures, they achieved a much higher grade point average, while those who frequently used their cell phones had a dramatically lower grade point average.

What can be concluded about this study is that students seem to believe that multitasking with cell phones and paying attention during lectures is a possibility, but the results show otherwise. On the other hand, effective engagement with clickers and Peer Instruction helped to reduce digital distractions and increase student performance.

While mobile devices and laptops can be an incredibly effective learning tool, problems can arise from overuse and misuse. Though this issue is not anything new, it is still a problem that, fortunately, has a solution, though it may be temporary. In order to maintain a balance between effectiveness and misuse, faculty members and institutions need to employ other creative technological solutions that does not prohibit students from using technology, but rather suggests alternative methods of student engagement.

For more information about this study, please go to this website.