I’ve never had a “no use” cell phone policy in my class. I have students use them in class sometimes; The Canvas app is great for submitting in-class work or even for taking quizzes. The research on “distracted learning,” however, is giving me pause. In fact, I’m wondering about other things I’m doing that may be a disservice to my students, like providing slides online, which I believe has caused the art of note-taking to go by the wayside.

But for now, let’s take a deep dive into multitasking. Not gonna lie, I’m all about efficiency. “Hello, I’m Kara and I’m a multitasker.” I grew up with a “non-idle hands” policy that seems to have followed me right into adulthood, so I understand students who also try to do two or three things at once, even during class. But the research doesn’t back me up on my belief that doing two things is better than one. In fact, it states just the opposite; We do tasks slower concurrently than when done sequentially.

Of the 478 undergraduate students surveyed in a recent study published in the Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 49% said that they recognized that multitasking during class was distracting. Even so, students chose to be off-task when the lecture or material was “boring.” (OK, that gives me something to think about).

In a study published earlier this year, Glass and Kang found a causal link between cell phone and laptop use during class and lower exam scores. As the instructors who were surveyed in this study noted, they planned to continue to inform their students about the dangers of divided attention during class. Certainly, if we’re not going to ban technology all together, teaching students about its effective use in the learning environment is important.

Do you have any thoughts on this issue? If so, please comment below!


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2 thoughts on “Are Students Distracted Learners?

  1. It’s a fun point to bring up – there’s a lot out there on this topic. I disagree with many regarding the technique of “they love their phones so lets judo that and get them to use the phones for learning!” There are deep techno-psycho-social reasons why this just doesn’t work well for cognition.

    In a CS classroom, where laptops are the norm, I use one fun technique: prompting the students to put their laptops into “listening mode.” This acts as both a queue for a mini-lecture or discussion, and gets them to turn tilt/close the glowing screens.

    If the screen is up, attention is off. No animal can resists glowing lights and colors!

  2. This is very interesting! I just had this conversation with one of my friends the other day. They mentioned that their daughter works better when she has the TV on, music playing and her phone next to her. I remember going through college and primarily needing absolute silence when I studied. I would have to go to the third floor of the library where no one existed in order to study my Advanced Topics of Exercise Physiology homework! I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could get anything done with distractions. However, I’ve noticed that it might be a generational thing.

    I think technology is very useful in the classroom…. to an extent. I love using “Kahoot” as a tool to help with pre-midterm jitters and comprehension. However, my constant quote in class is “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness”. I expect for the 50 minutes I have these students in my class their Snapchat and Instagram posts can wait. It’s difficult sometimes to have that temptation right in front of you and not want to check the latest information during class.

    Thanks for this post, It’s wonderful to hear some other thoughts and opinions on this!



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