Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Still more on phones and multitasking

Studies continue to support the now-obvious finding that multitasking is extremely difficult, making electronic devices a distraction:

"students who use their mobile phones during class lectures tend to write down less information, recall less information, and perform worse on a multiple-choice test than those students who abstain from using their mobile phones during class.” 

What to do though? Device use is hard to patrol, hard enough that I've usually found the effort exceeds the reward. And students believe (wrongly) that they can multitask and learn effectively.

I'm going to follow up Maryellen Weimer's suggestion: Rather than a "policy," I'm going to respect student autonomy and simply tell them what the research says, including a link to this Kuznekoff and Titsworth paper
So, I’m wondering if the place to begin isn’t by confronting students with the evidence. Kuznekoff and Titsworth suggest including highlights of their research or that of others on the course syllabus or, I would add, to the course website. Their article references a number of studies if you think a longer list might be more persuasive. If your style is a bit more in-your-face, you could come to class with a copy of several of these studies and when you see behaviors that look suspicious, stop class and talk briefly but specifically about the research. Students who text should do so knowing that the behavior has consequences—points, grades, and most important of all, learning are at stake. 
Will this necessarily work? No, but it should at least put a bug in students' ears: If an overwhelming body of research says phone use is harmful academically, then you'veve got to be awfully special to be the exception to the rule. 


  1. At the end of last semester, I gave an anonymous survey about phone and computer use in class to the students in my three philosophy and humanities courses. Some students who used phones and computers in class and felt it didn't distract them, others acknowledged they were distracted. But the most striking finding was that a small but impassioned minority of students (who didn't use phones or computers) found the behavior of those who did rude and distracting, and asked for a policy forbidding phone and computer use. So another bug we could put in students' ears is the possibility that your cruising Facebook during class could be disturbing to a fellow student.

  2. My thinking (as a recently graduated undergrad) is that these types of timewasters result from mere apathy. If it's apathy about the course in general then that won't make the fear of failing it any more real. If it's temporary apathy or loss of interest/attention then I assume that the statistics will also be conveniently temporarily forgotten.

    (Sorry for the bleak outlook.)

  3. Have them research the question "Can I text and learn at the same time?" and turn in a paper on their findings!


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