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Date Created: 01/11/16
CLASSROOM DIGITAL DISTRACTIONS IN THE CLASSROOM: STUDENT CLASSROOM USE OF DIGITAL DEVICES FOR NON-CLASS RELATED PURPOSES Bernard R. McCoy respondent used a digital device for non-class University of Nebraska-Lincoln purposes 10.93 times during a typical school day for activities including texting, social networking, The author would like to acknowledge Uni- emailing. Most respondents did so to fight versity of Nebraska-Lincoln researcher Dr. Johnm, entertain themselves, and stay con- Creswell and Graduate Research Assistant The-ed to the outside world. More than 80% of resa R.F. McKinney in the Office of Qualitativespondents indicated such behavior caused & Mixed Methods Research at the University of to pay less attention in the classroom and Nebraska-Lincoln who advised and reviewedmiss instruction. Amajority of respondents favor survey responses in this study. policies governing digital device distractions in the classroom. ABSTRACT Digital devices such as smart phones, tab-ODUCTION lets, and laptop computers are important collegeast decade has seen steady growth in classroom tools. They support student learningnt use of digital devices (smart phones, by providing access to information outside class- tablets, etc.). The devices allow users room walls. However, when used for non-classer access to information and people. As more purposes, digital devices may interfere withdents use digital devices, research shows their classroom learning. Asurvey study asked college causing more classroom learning distrac- tions. students to describe their behavior and percep- tions regarding classroom use of digital devicese (2012) found that smart phones are for non-class purposes. The respondents includedlarly popular with young adults: 66% of 777 students at six U.S. universities. The average18-29 own a smartphone. Experian VOL. 4 - NUMBER 4, OCTOBER 2013 5 Marketing Services (2013) found 18-to-24-year- engaged in active text conversations, while the olds used smart phones to send and receive an others were not. Froese’s team calculated a 27% average of 3,853 text messages a month. ADe- drop in student scores due to texting. Rubinkam loitte survey (2013) found the 14-23 age group (2010) wrote about a Wilkes University survey had the highest rate of laptop adoption in the that found 10% of students sent or received texts United States at 84%, the second highest rate of during exams. Campbell (2006) found students smartphone adoption at 70%, and the second and faculty generally reported negative attitudes highest rate of tablet adoption at 43%. about mobile phones in college classrooms with In classroom settings, digital devices used as ringing as a serious source of irritation and dis- educational tools have also seen growth. Gray, traction for respondents. Thomas & Lewis (2010) found Internet access Findings such as these may not be surprising available for 93% of the computers found in given other research involving human behavior classrooms. Smith, Rainie & Zickuhr (2011) found and the use of digital technology. Ophir, Nass, nearly 100% of college graduate and undergradu- Wagner, Anthony & Posner (2009) noted society’s ate students had Internet access. Ninety-two increasingly saturated media environment means percent of undergraduates and 88% of graduate more people are consuming more than one con- students connected to the Internet via wireless tent stream at the same time. Ophir told Thomas cell phones, laptops or tablets. (2009) the human mind is not really built for pro- There are drawbacks associated with digital cessing multiple streams of information. Foerde devices used in the classroom as well. Richtel and Poldrack (2006) found people had a harder (2012) reported a belief among teachers that time learning new things when their brains were constant use of digital technology hampered their distracted by another activity. In classroom student’s attention spans and ability to persevere settings, Wei, Wang and Klausner (2012) found in the face of challenging tasks. ACommon Sense texting during class partially affected a students’ Media (2012) survey of teachers found 71% of ability to self-regulate their attention to class- teachers thought technology hurt student atten- room learning. In an earlier study, Wei and Wang tion span “somewhat” or “a lot.” About 60% of (2010) noted college students’ ability to text and surveyed teachers said it hindered students’ abil- perform other tasks simultaneously during class ity to write and communicate face to face. Pur- might become a habit over time. Such habits may cell, et al. (2012) found sharply diverging teacher be defined as automatic behaviors triggered by views in a survey they conducted. Seventy-seven minimum consciousness. percent of teachers they surveyed thought the In- Previous research indicates that non-class- ternet and search engines had a “mostly positive” room use of digital devices by college students impact on student research skills. However, 87% causes learning distractions in classrooms (Fro- of the respondents believed digital technologies ese, 2012; Campbell, 2006; Wei, Wang & Klausner, were creating “an easily distracted generation 2012; Wei & Wang, 2010). Building from prior with short attention spans,” and 64% said digital research, the purpose of this survey study was to technologies did “more to distract students than examine how college students use digital devices to help them academically.” in classroom settings for non-classroom related Students have also identified learning distrac- purposes. What impact does such behavior have tions caused by digital technology. Froese (2012) on student learning? What are the perceived ad- had students participate in a mock-classroom vantages and disadvantages of this behavior, and where they watched a PowerPoint presentation what policies might effectively limit classroom followed by a 10-question quiz. Half the students distractions caused by digital devices? 6 JOURNAL OF MEDIA EDUCATION METHODS Respondents were recruited by classroom In the fall semester of 2012, a sampling of 777 instructors via email and personal contact in the students at six U.S. universities was asked 15 sur- fall of 2012. All respondents were given the op- vey questions about their classroom use of digital tion to complete the survey or not. The survey devices for non-class purposes. Respondents did not ask respondents to state their name or included freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior, institution, but the researcher identified colleges and graduate students who attended college in and universities respondents attended via Inter- Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, North Carolina, and net Protocol (IP) routing addresses associated Mississippi. Most respondents majored in mass with survey responses. communications, but the survey also included Using SurveyMonkey.com as a data collection students from marketing, business, education, tool, quantitative data results were compared and agriculture majors. Instructor observations of statistically and by respondent gender, age, and college students in classroom settings, a baseline year in school. The analysis also looked at the survey of students, conversations with instruc- frequency of responses. tors at other U.S. colleges, and a literature review RESULTS suggest student classroom uses of digital devices for non-class purposes causes learning distrac- The survey’s quantitative frequencies results tions. This launched a research agenda focused are presented first, followed by a comparison on studying student classroom uses of digital de- analysis. vices for non-class purposes, and the effects such behavior may have on classroom learning. QUANTITATIVE RESULTS The survey addressed the frequency and Table 1 shows results for the fifteen question intensity of non-class related digital distractions survey. Students were asked how often they used in the classroom, advantages and disadvantages a digital device during classes for non-classroom of using digital devices for non-class purposes, related activities on a typical school day. Of the what instructors should do to address digital dis- responses, 34.9% chose “1 to 3 times” as a re- tractions in the classroom, and if a need exists forsponse, followed by 26.8% who chose “4 to 10 formal policies to address digital distractions in times.” The remaining student responses includ- the classroom. Nine of the survey’s 15 questions ed 15.7% who chose “11 to 30 times,” 14.8%who presented respondents with a list of answers to chose “More than 30 times,” and 7.9 percent who choose from in addition to an “other” open-an- chose “Never.” Question 1 (PDF) swer response. Some pre-determined responses were devel- When we asked students how they used oped from a 2012 pilot survey of undergraduate digital devices during class for non-class pur- mass communications majors (N=95) at a mid- poses, “Texting” was the top response at 85.9%. western university. The pilot survey identified It was followed by “Checking the time,” at 79%, frequent types of non-class related digital device “E-mail” at 67.9%, “Social Networking” at 66%, use in classrooms. “Web surfing” at 38%, “Games” at 8 percent, and Institutional Review Board approval was “Other” at 4.4 percent. obtained before the survey’s administration. It Question 2 (PDF) included a cover page statement informing stu- Students were asked to choose the three big- dents that the survey’s completion and submis- gest advantages and three biggest disadvantages sion constituted their consent to participate in theto using digital devices in class for non-classroom study. purposes. The top response for biggest advan- VOL. 4 - NUMBER 4, OCTOBER 2013 7 tage was “To stay connected” at 69.8%. It was digital distractions in the classroom. “Yes” was followed by “Fight Boredom” at 55%, “Related chosen by 53.7% of the respondents, followed by classwork” at 49.4%, “Entertainment” at 49.1%, “No” at 46.3%. “In case of emergency” at 41% and “Other” at When asked if digital devices should be 5.2 percent. The biggest disadvantage to using a banned from classrooms, 91.2% of the respon- digital device in class for non-classroom purposes dents said “No,” and 8.8 percent said “Yes.” was “Don’t pay attention” at 89.8%. It was fol- Question 8 (PDF) lowed by “Miss instruction” at 80.4%, “Distract Question 9 (PDF) others” at 39.4%, “Get called out by instructor” at Question 10 (PDF) 32.1%, “Lose grade points” at 26.6%, and “Other” When asked what an instructor should do if a at 1.7 percent. student causes a disruption by using a digital de- Question 3 (PDF) vice for non-class purposes, 71.8% chose “Speak Question 4 (PDF) to student.” Other responses were “Ask student We asked students to identify how much of to leave class” at 16.6%, and “Confiscate or turn- a distraction was caused by other student’s use off device” at 11.7%. of digital devices during class for non-classroom Question 11A (PDF) activities. “Alittle distraction” was the leading We asked students which policy they would choice at 52.2%. It was followed by “No distrac- favor most for students caught using digital tion” at 33%, “More than a little distraction” at devices in the classroom for non-class purposes. 10.1%, “Big distraction” at 3.1 percent, and “Very “Warning on first offense followed by penalties big distraction” at 1.6 percent. “was the leading response at 65.3%. It was fol- Question 5 (PDF) lowed by “No warnings or penalty” at 31.2% and When asked to choose how much of a distrac- “Penalty each time it happens” at 3.5 percent. tion was caused by their own use of digital devic- Question 12 (PDF) es during class for non-classroom activities, the The last three questions were demographic in top response was “Alittle distraction” at 45.7%. nature. Females accounted for 63.2%, and males, It was followed by “No distraction” at 37.5%, 36.8% of survey respondents. Among the respon- “More than a little distraction” at 12.1%, “Big dis- dents, 34.3% said they were 18-years-old, 26.3% traction” at 3 percent, and “Very big distraction” said they were 19-years-old, 16.7% were 20-year- at 1.7 percent. olds, 15.9% were 21-year-olds, and 6.8 percent of Question 6A(PDF) the respondents were 22-year-olds. College fresh- Question 7 asked respondents to choose the men accounted for 39.9% of the students, fol- types of distractions caused by the use of digital lowed by sophomores at 24.8%, juniors at 15.6%, devices during class for non-class activities. “Vi- seniors at 17.4%, graduate students at 3.3 percent sual activity” was chosen by 67.6% of the respon- and 3.3 percent for “other.” dents, followed by “Audio activity” at 37.1%, Question 13 (PDF) “It’s not a distraction” at 16.3% and “Other at 1.5 Question 14 (PDF) percent. Question 15 (PDF) Question 7 (PDF) Students were asked if their instructors have COMPARISON ANALYSIS RESULTS a policy regarding the use of digital devices in Table 2 shows a comparison analysis of select- their classrooms. “Yes” was chosen by 70% of the ed questions. Question 1 comparison analysis in- respondents, followed by “No” at 30%. dicates undergraduates (N=741) were more likely When asked if there should be a policy on to use digital devices than graduates (N=25) dur- 8 JOURNAL OF MEDIA EDUCATION ing daily classes for non-class activities (92.53% Comparison analysis on Question 11 (female vs. 72%). N=453, male N=255) indicate females were more Table 2 Question 1 (PDF) likely than males (73.73% vs. 60.02%) to favor an instructor speaking to a student causing a class When overall frequency response rates were disruption by using a digital device, and less averaged ((1+3)/2=2, (4+10)/2=7, (11-30)/2=20.5, likely than males (14.13% vs. 20.39%) to favor an 35) and added for each school year, undergradu- instructor asking a student to leave class if they ates used a digital device an average of 11.16 cause a disruption by using a digital device. times each day in classes for non-class related Table 2 Question 11 (PDF) activities compared to an average of 3.90 times each class day for graduate students. Combined, DISCUSSION undergraduate and graduate students used a When college students multi-task with digi- digital device an average of 10.93 times each class tal devices in classrooms, research indicates it day for non-class activities. When overall Ques- may hamper their ability to pay attention. This tion 2 comparison analysis behavior, research suggests, indicates females (N=459) has become more habitual, were more likely than males automatic, and distracting. (N=257) (20.36% vs. 17.13%) This study of college students to use digital devices for further defined the dynamic non-class related social net- relationship between digital working. Males were more device use that promotes, likely than females (13.31% and digital device use that vs. 9.9%) to use digital devic- distracts from classroom es for non-class related web learning. It found most stu- surfing and (3.24% vs. 1.74%) dents favor policies that may playing games. better define and limit learn- Comparison analysis on ing distractions caused by Question 5 between females digital devices in classrooms. (N=482) and males (N=279) Distractions of this nature indicate females were more were previously identified likely than males (69.7% vs. by Froese (2012), Campbell 62.4%) to list some level of (2006), and Wei, Wang and distraction caused by an- Klausner (2012). This study other student’s use of digital attempted to further quantify devices during class for non- the frequency with which class activities. students used digital devices for non-class activi- Table 2 Question 5 (PDF) ties while in the classroom. This study’s results expanded on previous findings by identifying Comparison analysis on Question 6 (female non-classroom purposes a large majority of col- N=485, male N=278) indicate females were more lege student respondents use digital devices for likely than males (64.9% vs. 57.94%) to list some during class. These activities included texting level of distraction caused by their use of digital (85.9%), emailing (67.8%), and social network- devices during class for non-class activities. ing (66%). Respondents said three leading ad- Table 2 Question 6 (PDF) vantages for engaging in the non-class related VOL. 4 - NUMBER 4, OCTOBER 2013 9 behavior was to stay connected (69.8%), to fight tion, mostly (52.2%), a “small distraction.” boredom (55%), and for entertainment (49.1%). Amajority (53.7%) of respondents (N=769) Respondents said such behavior during class favor policies limiting classroom distractions caused them to not pay attention (89.8%) and caused by digital devices. This suggests students miss instruction (80.4%). When asked what kinds may be receptive to better clarity on appropri- of classroom distractions are caused when digital ate and inappropriate classroom uses of digital devices are used for non-class activities, the most devices while largely opposing (91.2%) classroom common reply (67.6%) was visual distractions, bans on digital devices. followed by audio distractions (37.1%). Only These results are supplemented by research 16.7% of the respondents indicated the use of by Rainie (2012), Deloitte (2013), and Experian digital devices for non-class activities was “not a Marketing Services (2013), that indicate 18-to-24- distraction.” year-olds are among the most frequent digital de- On the frequency of digital device distractions vice users. These trends, research indicates, will in the classroom: Acomparison analysis indicates likely continue to grow and should qualify for graduate students are much less likely to use future research, especially qualitative research, digital devices for non-class purposes than un- to better identify motives and perceptions driv- dergraduates (3.38 vs. 7.81 times a day). Alimita- ing respondent behavior. Other research might tion of this result is the small sample of graduate measure and compare the frequency, type, time student respondents. length, and impact of classroom digital distrac- This survey noted that when the respondent tions before and after policies designed to limit used a digital device for non-classroom activities, classroom learning distractions are implement- 62.5% said such behavior caused some form of ed. Future research might also compare larger classroom distraction, mostly (45.7%), a “small samples of graduate students with undergradu- distraction.” When another student’s use of a dig- ate students to see why classroom distractions ital device was involved, 67% of the respondents caused by digital device use may become less said it caused some form of classroom distrac- frequent as students grow older. REFERENCES 18-24-Year-Old Smartphone Owners Send and Receive Almost 4K Texts per Month. (2013, March 21). Experian Marketing Services. Retrieved from http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/direct/18- 24-year-old-smartphone-owners-send-and-receive-almost-4k-texts-per-month-27993/ Campbell, S. (2006). Perceptions of mobile phone in college classrooms: Ringing, cheating, and class- room policies. Communication Education, 55(3), 280-294. Cell Phone Use in Classrooms. Missouri State University. (2009, Spring). College statement. Retrieved from http://www.missouristate.edu/provost/celluse.htm Children, Teens, and Entertainment Media: The View From The Classroom. (2012, November 1). Re- trieved from http://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/children-teens-and-entertainment- media-the-view-from-the-classroom/key-finding-1%3A-media-use-impacts-academic-perfor- mance de Vise, D. (2010). Wide Web of Diversions Gets Laptops Evicted From Lecture Halls. [Web site] Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/08/ AR2010030804915.html?nav=hcmodule 10 JOURNAL OF MEDIA EDUCATION Fang, B. (2009). From distraction to engagement: Wireless devices in the classroom. Educause Quar- terly, 32(4), 1-10. Foerde K., & Knowlton B.J., & Poldrack R.A. (2006). Modulation of competing memory systems by distraction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103: 11778–11783. Froese, Arnold D., & Carpenter, Christina N., & Inman, Denyse A., & Schooley, Jessica R., & Barnes, Rebecca B., & Brecht, Paul W., & Chacon, Jasmin D. (2012). Effects of Classroom Cell Phone Use on Expected and Actual Learning. College Student Journal, 46 (2), 323-332. Gray, L., & Thomas, N., & Lewis, L. (2010, May). Teachers’ Use of Educational Technology in U.S. Public Schools: 2009. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/2010040.pdf Ophir, E., & Nass, C., & Wagner, Anthony D., & Posner, Michael I. (2009). Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106 (37) 15583-15587. Policy for Appropriate Use of Hand-held and Wireless Technology in the College of Arts and Sci- ences. Withrop University. (2010, March). University statement. Retrieved from http://www. winthrop.edu/uploadedFiles/artscience/AppropriateUseOfHandHeldWirelessTechnologyAp- provedPolicyMar2010.pdf Purcell, K., & Rainie, L., & Heaps, A., & Buchanan, J., & Friedrich, L., & Jacklin, A., & Chen, C., & Zickuhr, K. (2012, November 1) How Teens Do Research in the Digital World. Pew Internet and American Life Project. [Web site]. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/ Student-Research/Main-Report/Part-1.aspx Rainie, L. (2012, September 11). Smartphone Ownership Update: September 2012. Pew Internet and American Life Project. [Web site] Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/ Smartphone-Update-Sept-2012/Findings.aspx Richtel, M. (2012, November 1). Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say. [Web site] Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/education/technology-is-changing-how- students-learn-teachers-say.html?pagewanted=all Rubinkam, M. (2010, November 26). During boring classes, texting is th▯e new doodling. [Web site] Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2010/11/26/during_boring_ classes_texting_is_the_new_doodling/ State of the Media Democracy Survey: Amulti-generational view of consumer technology, media and telecom trends. Deloitte Development LLC. (2013, March). Retrieved from http://www.deloitte. com/us/tmttrends Smith, A., & Rainie, L., & Zickuhr, K. (2011, July 19). College Students and Technology. Pew Inter- net and American Life Project. [Web site] Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Re- ports/2011/College-students-and-technology/Report.aspx VOL. 4 - NUMBER 4, OCTOBER 2013 11 Smola, J. (2012, March 12). University Senate Revises Classroom Cell Phone Policy. The Miami Stu- dent. [Web site] Retrieved from http://www.miamistudent.net/news/campus/university-sen- ate-revises-classroom-cell-phone-policy-1.2817450#.uvfw0fdvaso Thomas, J. (2009, August 24) Chronic Media Multi-tasking Makes it Harder to Focus. U.S. News and World Report. [Web site] Retrieved from, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/ brain-and-behavior/articles/2009/08/24/chronic-media-multi-tasking-makes-it-harder-to Use of Electronic Devices in the Classroom. College of Brockport. State University of New York. (2013, February). Retrieved from http://www.brockport.edu/policies/docs/use_of_electronic_devic- es_in_the_classroom.pdf Wei, F. F., & Wang, Y. K., (2010). Students’ Silent Messages: Can Teacher Verbal and Nonverbal Im- mediacy Moderate Student Use of Text Messaging in Class? Communication Education. 2010, Vol. 59 Issue 4, p475-496. Wei, F. F., & Wang, Y. K., & Klausner, M. (2012). Rethinking College Students’ Self-Regulation and Sustained Attention: Does Text Messaging During Class Influence Cognitive Learning? Communi- cation Education. 2012, Vol. 61 Issue 3, p185-204. 12 JOURNAL OF MEDIA EDUCATION VOL. 4 - NUMBER 4, OCTOBER 2013 13 14 JOURNAL OF MEDIA EDUCATION
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