Technology as a Distraction in the Classroom

by Corey Rost, posted October 25, 2016

Students are wasting more time on their digital devices than ever. About one-fifth of their time in class is spent distracted by technological devices, according to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study.


Barney McCoy conducted research on how     often students are distracted by technology.             (click here for source of image)

Barney McCoy, associate professor of broadcasting and journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln conducted this research. “Students like having a freedom of deciding when to be connected,” McCoy says. He found that students check their phones and other digital devices an average of more than 11 times during class.

Students may use their devices for a variety of reasons. McCoy found three leading reasons students allow technology to distract them. He said that students try to fight their boredom, want to stay connected and want to entertain themselves. Unfortunately, these habits cause students to not pay attention and miss instructions.

“When I teach I make a point at beginning of the course about digital distraction,” says McCoy. “Can we talk for a minute about digital distraction,” he asks his students. He tells anyone who has ever been distracted by technology to raise their hands and calls anyone who does not do so a liar.

Jennifer MacGregor, a professor at St. Lawrence University, lead an exercise in one of her classes in which she banned her students from using all technology for two weeks. “Oh my god our children are doomed. They can’t think without the internet,” MacGregor speaks of why she took the initiative to do this exercise. “The kids are digital natives,” she adds.

For the most part students responded well to this exercise. “Their first 3 days were filled with panic,” recalls MacGregor. “After the three-day period they relaxed and started to feel profound relief.” Many of the students saw the benefits in not having technology around to distract them. “It’s Friday night and it’s 6:00 and I finished all my homework for the weekend,” MacGregor recollects one of her students saying.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-5-19-28-pm“Sometimes I try to study and find myself looking at Facebook on my computer and phone simultaneously and that’s an issue,” Dana Tindall ’19, says about how technology distracts her. Although she has taken some initiative in trying to lessen the distraction by deleting apps such as Snapchat. “I feel like I waste at least 10 minutes a day watching snap stories of people that I don’t care about and now I can use that time to do something more useful.”

David Rost, former Dean of Students at Concord Academy said that he would observe students during study hall spending the majority of their time on their cell phones. “I find it hard to believe that they spent all that time doing work on their smart phone when their textbooks and notes are lying untouched in front of them,” he says.

As technology continues to advance we must be aware of how detrimental it may be as it prevents our learning and affects our levels of productivity.