Technology distracts more than just the user

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Use of technology in class distracts not only the user, but the entire classroom. Photo by Sarah Hill.
Use of technology in class distracts not only the user, but the entire classroom. Photo by Sarah Hill.

It’s the first day of a new semester. A student rushes to class, arrives a little late and hastily searches for a place to sit. After she hurdles a few backpacks and computer cords to get to an open desk, she pulls out a notebook and pen.

She finally settles in to focus and listen to the lecture, until she realizes she is stuck behind the Pinterest queen of the class.

A recent study by Computers and Education found that students who engaged in multitasking on a computer during lectures achieved 11 percent lower grades on their tests, and further, the peers of these multitasking classmates did even worse, with 17 percent lower grades on their tests.

“The results demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content,” the study reports.

Laptops have become commonplace in lectures to take notes and, of course, to use Pinterest and other social media outlets. BYU is no exception, and students are just as vulnerable to experiencing the results.

Researchers were surprised by the 17 percent drop in test scores among the participants who viewed the multitasking participants around them.

According to the study, “This finding suggests that despite actively trying to learn the material … these participants (those seated behind someone multitasking) were placed at a disadvantage by the choices of their peers.”

Cynthia Wong, an adviser from BYU’s Academic Support Office, said she believes students should treat this situation the same as if someone in front of them at the movies was using a cellphone.

“I think students have the right to ask their classmates to turn off their devices to respect their learning environment,” Wong said.

As technology becomes increasingly prevalent in the classroom, professors have different strategies and opinions for the use of technology.

Clark Callahan, a communications professor, allows and encourages students in his classes to use technology. He especially likes to have his students fact-check him during lectures because he feels it helps them become active learners.

Callahan said he tells his students, “If you want to surf, surf. Why would you go and sit in class and not pay attention? You’re just wasting your time.”

Another communications professor, Laurie Wilson, said her feelings and experiences with technology have led her to completely ban them from her classroom. She even created a rule that required violators of the rule to bring in doughnuts for the entire class.

Wilson said technology use may be growing quickly, but students’ abilities to master its potentials are not growing at the same rate.

“We are becoming victims … because we don’t realize how we should be controlling it instead of it controlling us,” Wilson said.

To avoid being victimized by technology, Wong suggested BYU students try a two-week “media fast.” Wong assists students who have told her they are surprised and confused with what to do with all the extra time they gain from the fast.

To help with the fast, Wong suggests students have a family member or close friend reset their social media passwords so they cannot log in.

“One student commented after media fasting that they didn’t realize that their fingers automatically typed “Facebook” every time they logged onto a computer,” Wong said.

Only the future will tell the end result of whether technology will become a help or burden in students’ learning. But for now, teachers and advisors agree that students will have to decide what works best for them.

“At some point students have to be responsible for their own learning,” Callahan said.

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