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Phoenix Forward magazine

Is texting in class hurting your education?

Texting in class

Although you may think that sending a harmless “WAYD?” (What are you doing?) text to your buddy during a college lecture won’t distract you from the material, a 2012 study shows otherwise.

“It’s very simple,” says Bonnie Ellis, PhD, a public speaking coach and director of academic affairs for the University of Phoenix Detroit Campus: “If you are texting, you aren’t listening.”

A University of Pittsburgh study found that students who text during class send an average of 2.4 texts and read 2.6 during each class, and are more likely to miss out on instruction and score lower grades as a result.

“I get a kick out of my students who say they can multitask, because they’re really not,” says Ellis, who instructs in the communication program. “They’re just shifting their attention between two very different activities.”

Students are overly attached to their phones today, Ellis says. “Even when a phone isn’t being used, it’s out on the desk or on a student’s lap,” she explains. “You can be in the middle of a classroom conversation, and suddenly a student will glance down at their phone, because they notice they’ve gotten a new message.”

It’s kind of like when people first started using their phones while driving; people didn’t realize how dangerous it was.

Not only is this behavior rude to other people in the classroom, it’s distracting, because the student isn’t placing priority on the conversation that’s taking place in class.

If you’re constantly looking at your phone, you’re conveying the message that school isn’t as important as your social life, Ellis explains, and you’re less likely to become engaged in curriculum. “In the long run, this behavior can affect the student’s cognitive learning,” she says.

Another concern for Ellis is that when cellphones are available inside a classroom, there is a higher potential for cheating. “I’ve seen many students in larger classes holding their phones under the table during a test,” she says. “Who knows if that student is texting a classmate to ask for a test question, or sharing answers?”

So what can be done to address this issue?

Ellis believes there needs to be a shift in college culture to send a clear message that it’s not OK to have cellphones out in the classroom. “It’s kind of like when people first started using their phones while driving; people didn’t realize how dangerous it was.”

We need to make the same realization about texting in class as we did with driving, she says.

“If students really understand the negative consequences texting has on their learning, hopefully they will make the decision to put that phone out of sight and have it turned off.”

Plus it’s a win-win for the students, she points out. When students absorb material while sitting in a classroom, it decreases the amount of time they have to study.

“We’ve survived for countless years without having an electronic device in our hands at all times,” Ellis says. “Surely we can all learn to go without the cellphone during class.”


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