Can tweeting and Googling be harnessed for good in the classroom?

I enjoyed the weekend debate on the blog over smartphones in schools. I agree with the argument made by Woodrow404 that teens see cell phones as  “an added sensory organ,” and the most logical solution is not to ban their vital devices, but incorporate them into the learning experience.

Can schools figure out how to integrate smartphones in lesson plans? And keep kids from straying into online diversions? (AP Photo)

Can schools figure out how to integrate smartphones into lesson plans? And keep kids from straying into online diversions? (AP Photo)

But I question whether teachers can successfully limit use of smartphones to classwork.

Most parents can’t stop their children from pulling out their phones at the dinner table, on vacation or during car rides. A friend mourned the silence of her weekly carpool now that her 13-year-old daughter and her soccer teammates all own smartphones. They used to all chatter on the way to practice, but the woman told me her adolescent passengers now seldom look up from their phones.

While many of the teachers on the blog struggling against cell phone distractions in their classrooms were k-12, the issue is getting a lot of discussion in higher education.

The Chronicle of Higher Education had a great essay by a college professor who asked his students to go without their cell phones for a few days. The professor writes, “A few students said they couldn’t possibly give up their phones, because their parents would think something had happened to them. “They might think I’m dead.” I had trouble with that one. What kind of parents think their adult sons and daughters are dead if they don’t hear from them for a day or two? What kind of sophomore in college lives with such odious responsibility?”

Also, check out this piece by a professor of theory and practice of social media at NYU on why he banned  laptops, tablets and phones in his class. The professor writes: “Anyone distracted in class doesn’t just lose out on the content of the discussion, they create a sense of permission that opting out is OK and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers. In an environment like this, students need support for the better angels of their nature (or at least the more intellectual angels), and they need defenses against the powerful short-term incentives to put off complex, frustrating tasks.”

I just received a link this morning to a new report on cell phones in college classrooms. The report in the Communication Education journal cites the omnipresence of cell phones among college-age Americans, noting:

“In 2009, the mean texts sent/received per day was 29.7, by 2010 that figure had risen to 39.1, and by 2011 the average was 41.5. However, these overall means hide the significant use of text messaging by 18–24 year olds. Within this age group, 95% own a mobile phone and of that 97% actively use text messaging. In addition, this age group sends/receives over 100 text messages per day or over 3,200 per month, which is double the same averages for 25–34 year olds (Smith, 2011).”

Concurring with the Get Schooled posters who say cell phones are now a fixture in the of education landscape, the study, “Mobile Phones in the Classroom: Examining the Effects of Texting, Twitter, and Message Content on Student Learning,” suggests:

“For better or worse, college faculty may need to accept that students are going to bring their mobile devices with them to class. However, an important consideration is the influence these devices have on student learning. Thus far, several studies have found that students who text, or use other technologies in class, are generally outperformed by those students who abstain from these behaviors (Kuznekoff & Titsworth, 2013; Wei, Wang, & Klausner, 2012; Wood et al., 2012) and some studies have found that multitasking is distracting for those students seated around the multitasker (Sana, Weston, & Cepeda, 2013)

As teachers on this blog can verify, the study — by Jeffrey H. Kuznekoff, Stevie Munz and Scott Titsworth — found students don’t willingly turn off their phones when they enter class:

“The use of mobile technology does not diminish when students walk into a classroom or lecture hall. Survey research by McCoy (2013) examined students’ use of digital devices, while in class, for nonclassroom-related reasons. Across six universities and over 700 participants, McCoy found that, while in class, 86% of participants used these devices for texting, 68% for emailing, and 66% for social networking. In addition, that research also found that students engaged in these behaviors for several different reasons, including: to stay connected (70%), to stave off boredom (55%), and simply for entertainment (49%). Perhaps most alarmingly, students readily acknowledge that their use of digital devices causes them to either not pay attention in class (90%) and/or to miss instruction from faculty members (80%). Because of the frequency with which students use mobile devices, faculty at all levels are experimenting with how to leverage that capability for productive classroom uses.

Purcell and colleagues (2013) surveyed high school teachers who taught advanced placement classes or were involved with the national writing project. Their survey research found that 73% of teachers report that their students use mobile phones to complete class assignments or class activities, and 42% of those teachers ask students to use their mobile phones to look up information while in class. Although these approaches appear to turn what was previously considered a distraction into an asset for learning, little research substantiates whether such strategies are beneficial.

Teaching strategies that integrate students’ use of mobile devices should be commended. Those approaches reflect adaptation to an increasingly connected group of students, and appropriately responding to shifting cultural uses of technology. Whether in a K-12 or college classroom, it is reasonable to hypothesize that appropriate use of mobile devices will keep students engaged and will therefore likely have positive learning outcomes.

On the other hand, researchers have observed rather consistent results showing that the use of technology for noncourse-related purposes has a negative effect on student learning. For instance, students report lower levels of attention and decreased perceived learning when they actively text in class (Wei et al., 2012). Other studies have examined laptop use and multitasking to ascertain the impact of digital technologies on student learning (Kraushaar & Novak, 2010). In this line of research, Wood et al. (2012) found that “any distraction, regardless of number, resulted in poorer performance than the no distraction condition” (p. 372). Other researchers (Kraushaar & Novak, 2010; Wei et al., 2012) observed that students who actively used their mobile phones or other digital technologies generally performed lower than students who did not engage in these behaviors.

More recently, Kuznekoff and Titsworth (2013) conducted an experiment to study mobile phones in the communication classroom. Using a control group and two experimental conditions (low-distraction and high-distraction), they assessed the impact of texting/posting to Facebook on student learning through scores on both a multiple-choice and free-recall test, and also measured the quality of notes that students took while watching a recorded lecture. Their study found that students in the control group, who abstained from using their mobile phones during the lecture, outperformed students who actively used their phones. Specifically, their results showed that students who actively posted on their mobile device during the lecture recorded 38% fewer details in their notes, scored 51% lower on a free-recall test, and scored 20% lower on a multiple-choice test. Although those findings quantify the relative negative impact of being distracted by a mobile device while listening to a lecture, the content of the messages students responded to were extraneous to the content of the lecture. Given the increasing use of mobile devices to augment lessons and lectures, exploring whether relevant posting has the same effects would be useful for teachers and students alike.

Here is an excerpt from the official summary of the report:

As mobile technology has become more widespread, however, some instructors have begun to include texting or digital technology in their lesson plans, which begs the question: Is it still distracting to students? Can students reply to and send messages about class content without being distracted?

A new study by J.H. Kuzennekoff, et. al., examines these questions. The researchers tested students using mobile devices in class to respond to messages that were relevant to classroom material; additionally, the researchers varied the form of the messages (responding to another message or composing an original one) and the frequency of the texts.

Students who replied to messages relevant to class material scored higher on multiple choice tests than students who replied to messages that were unrelated to the class. The study authors conclude from this that “sending or receiving relevant messages may allow students to engage in similar processes as those that occur during note-taking. Specifically, relevant messages may allow students to encode lecture content in a manner similar to the processes that occur during note-taking (Peverly et.al. 2013).”

The frequency of messaging was also found to be a factor in the interruption of learning: students who tweeted with higher frequency on content not related to the class took lower quality notes than those who tweeted less frequently on non-classroom related subjects, and scored up to 17 percent lower than the control group on multiple-choice tests.

While many instructors assume that mobile devices interrupt learning processes in the classroom — even when they are related to material being studied — this research points to the value that such devices may impart.

That said, the study suggests that texting about content external to the lesson, or texting at a very high frequency, can, indeed, interrupt learning. In addition to helping guide campus and classroom mobile device policies, this research contributes to the growing body of research on how the brain processes information when confronted with multiple, simultaneous sources of input.

 

Reader Comments 0

41 comments
dg417s
dg417s

I have a Twitter account that I use for class - well, used to - kids quit using Twitter. I've also set up a Socrative account, but the general response I get from kids is "I don't have enough data" or "I don't have room on my phone for your app." I know for most of the kids that that is bull, but I still use these technologies with some success.

booful98
booful98

My children both take their phones to school and it isn't an issue. The phones stay silent in their lockers until dismissal. 

I mainly gave them both phones because of ME not them. I have pretty severe anxiety and them having phones has helped curve it. I never text them or call them during the school day, but I have to know they have them for my own peace of mind. Think of me what you will, but NO WAY will I ever agree with them not having their phones.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@booful98 If they are in the lockers, and not accessible during the day, how does this help your anxiety?

MoFaux
MoFaux

@booful98 Also, out of curiosity, how do you verify that they stay in the lockers?

booful98
booful98

@popacorn @booful98 The school doesn't allow them to use them in the classroom. If they are, they are being very stealthy about it because I've never gotten a complain from the school.

booful98
booful98

@MoFaux @booful98 I don't. The school doesn't allow use of phones at school unless there is an emergency (i.e. Snowmagedon couple of years ago). If my kids are using them at school, they are being very stealthy about it because i have never received a complaint from the school. 

And either way it doesn't seem to be affecting their grades, they are both honor roll students.

redweather
redweather

Great blog post.  There's plenty of good evidence out there questioning the utility of phones, laptops, and tablets in the classroom.  I strongly recommend Kentaro Toyama's book, "Geek Heresy:  Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology." 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Maybe tweeting could be used at the middle and high school level as an advanced form of "turn and tell a partner."

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

"Most parents can’t stop their children from pulling out their phones at the dinner table..."


BULL!  Our kids either give us their phone or leave it in their rooms.  If they bring it to the table, they lose it for a week and every other violation after that the penalty is doubled.  I bought their phone, I can control it - at least at the dinner table.  Most parents are afraid to hurt their little kids feelings by not allowing it at the dinner table.

Astropig
Astropig

@MiltonMan


We were so absorbed in conversation,argument,humor and current events that the last thing on earth the little 'pigs would do would be to whip out a phone-They might miss something. It's that way to this day,even though they are not home nearly often enough.

bu2
bu2

@MiltonMan 

No, most parents are using their own at the dinner table!

ErnestB
ErnestB

BYOD in the work environment is here to stay.  Studies are showing that the use of mobile devices are continually increasing and will (if it hasn't already) surpass the use of desktops and laptops.  It only makes sense to determine how to best incorporate mobile devices in classrooms as usage will be expected and perhaps required in the workplace.


I recall many moons ago, I was the first one with a calculator in my junior high class (tells you how old I am).  My teacher forbid me to use it initially on tests because he believed it provided an advantage over the  other students.  Over time what teachers realized is that less emphasis could be given to mundane mathematical tasks and more could be given to process and application, i.e higher level thinking.  I think we will eventually figure out how to better leverage these devices for instructional purposes however we are struggling with that now.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@ErnestB 

 For what it's worth, my adult daughter in business reports that she finds that "millennial" workers (20-30 year olds) now don't email or phone, they text. As a "Generation X"er, she finds this time-wasting and off-putting..."but that's just the way they all are, Mom."  And were in school, presumably.

flaneur_
flaneur_

@OriginalProf 

Another reason why Millennials' own children will probably grow up to surpass them in every way.

Or to work under the direction of Chinese bosses.

Belinda51
Belinda51

There is no reason an elementary school child needs a cell phone. The "emergency" excuse is so overused. If there is an emergency, your school can and will handle it. We lived 1 mile from Columbine in 1999, before 3 year-olds had iPhones. Land lines were mostly used. Can you imagine what would happen today with every student trying to use their cell phones? Would they be too distracted to even hear-listen to instructions from first responders?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Belinda51 I agree. IF it is a real emergency, tell the office the message for your child.  If you have to admit the trivial nature of your message, maybe you will see it wasn't as much an emergency as you thought.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Belinda51 The only good thing I can think of that came from our being a Reading First school is the near-total abolition of the squawking of the intercom,with these trivia messages.   Now, the office notifies the teacher near the end of the day.

booful98
booful98

@Belinda51 Can they really?? Just two years ago, during Snowmagedon, my kids' school gave no updates. I wouldn't have had a clue where my children were if it had not been for their phones. All the school said was that they were dismissing them early. There were no further updates and my kids were stuck in the cafeteria for hours. I am NOT blaming the schools for this since we all know how effed up that situation was, but my kids had their phones and could update me on what was going on and where they were while their dad and I were stuck on the roads for hours.

giveitup
giveitup

@booful98  They were at the school!  What else did you need to know?

BKendall
BKendall

I would suggest that any plan to use this technology as a tool has to be approached from multiple perspectives. One would address personal discipline skills. Another would need to address technical issues. And while not the end of the list, curriculum would have to be designed to incorporate its use.

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

"Most parents can’t stop their children from pulling out their phones at the dinner table, on vacation or during car rides."


CAN'T, or WON'T?

booful98
booful98

@popacorn @ScienceTeacher671 I have no problem getting my kids to put away their phones during dinner and other family activities. Are you saying some kids get the DTs if they can't text for an hour?

popacorn
popacorn

Sure, use 'em all day in class. And you can tell they are pursuing intellectual growth and not chatting/sexting/setting up drug deals how?

BKendall
BKendall

Good question. I have answers but no plans to tap out 400 plus words on my phone to provide it now. It can be done.

bu2
bu2

There's a reason it was called the "crackberry" (the Blackberry for anyone too young to remember when they dominated the smartphone business).


Rather than embracing addictive behavior, schools need to just say no. 


You can't really take them away, but you can penalize use.


Who knows, the students might learn something new, like a different way of interacting.



Astropig
Astropig

I personally think that this is a great social development.The reason that a lot of parents offsprung whip out their cell phones at the dinner table,in class and other inappropriate places is because (at bottom) they don't respect their parents or care for their company.Thus we reap the rich harvest of the "progressive" ideas of raising kids.They don't particularly like or respect you and they're like hostile strangers in your homes and schools.They've absorbed all of this mindless "rebellion" against order,courtesy and respect,so why would they give up their phones or Ipads or whatever? You're not going to do anything except give them a good talking to (if that). I think that it's a good thing that you get to see your kids the way a lot of us normal folks see "progressives". Enjoy.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig What I see where I am,it is the Southern Baptist Conservatives who whine the most about their child's "rights."  Part of that sense of entitlement.

BKendall
BKendall

While we all should offer respect at first meeting, it has to be maintained, and sometimes earned.

flaneur_
flaneur_

@BKendall 

And as a liberal you're okay with letting minors define respect and what "earns" it.


Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Astropig


I don't know about that. I doubt very seriously if there is a religious component to it. I believe deeply that kids today are missing something in their lives,something that we can give them for free-our attention,our love and our interest.


Fred Rogers didn't dance,he had no super powers,he didn't "morph" into some unearthly thing. He mostly did mundane things in a world with mundane people.He sang a little (softly) and never forgot that he was a role model...


Yet he lasted for over 35 years on TV (an eternity by entertainment standards). He was a success and was loved (including by me.I openly wept when he passed a way and choke up to this day thinking how his class and goodness),because he looked right into that camera over parts of five decades and talked to kids with respect,friendliness and real love. Didn't cost him a cent. 


They're on their phones and other devices trying to reach someone who cares. Too bad the person at the dinner table is too busy to notice.

MoFaux
MoFaux

@Astropig Huh?  I'm a liberal, and I agree with you regarding the phone at the dinner table.  Quit trying to make this political.  Respect and family values transcend political parties.