Smartphone use hinders education — but students won’t quit

Smartphone use hinders education — but students won’t quit

College students spend more class time than ever playing with their smartphones and other digital devices, according to a new University of Nebraska report.

The study, which surveyed 675 students in 26 states, found that on average, students check their phones during class more than 11 times a day. Barney McCoy, the report’s lead author and an associate professor of broadcasting and journalism, said students aren’t just glancing down to see if someone is trying to reach them.

“They basically say about 20, 21 percent of their time is spent either text messaging or checking social media, those kinds of things that really take them away from the discussion or the activities that are taking place in the classroom,” McCoy said. “That really adds up.”

For a typical four-year education, McCoy said, the average student may be distracted for two-thirds of a school year. He said students admit to the downsides of looking at their phones instead of their professors: missing out on lessons, lower grades, and being called out for not paying attention. However, he said, most students say they can’t or won’t change their behavior.

Students cited boredom as the top reason they turn to their phones during class, and more than one in four said they had the right to use devices whenever they wanted. McCoy said part of the responsibility falls on professors to use new technology to engage students – by challenging them to Google a topic in real time, for example – which can add to the learning experience. But he said the findings suggest students and professors both could benefit by establishing ground rules.

“We need to have conversations that build those expectations in and try and build a consensus about why we’re in a classroom to begin with,” he said. “And that’s hopefully to effectively learn, and if you’re a professor, to effectively teach.”

McCoy first surveyed students in 2013, and two years later the use of digital devices during class time has increased slightly. In 2015, the number of students who said they never use devices for non-classroom purposes dropped to 3 percent, compared with 8 percent in 2013.

The study is online at


Photo credit: Nazareth College, Creative Commons, Flickr

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About the Author

Eric Galatas, Colorado News Connection

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