Is Texting in Class Distracting?

by: Amar Kapadia

LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. – Here at Rider, and at campuses across the nation, the availability of text messaging is causing professors to compete with cell phones for their students’ attention. Christina Chang of reports that in a Wilkes University survey, over nine in 10 students have admitted to texting in class.  In the same Wilkes survey, psychology professors Deborah Tindell and Robert Bohlander  found that a majority of the 269 students surveyed (62 percent) thought it was okay to text during class, while  10 percent said they messaged during exams and 3 percent admitted to cheating on tests. As for Rider students, not everyone agrees on whether texting is disruptive.

Donovan Scott, a freshman majoring in Human Resource Management, says that “I don’t really see a problem with that as long as you’re (getting) work done on time.”  Texting is also a part of life says senior Andrea Panno.  She says that “Most teachers are beginning to realize, and the rest will follow shortly, that teaching at the college level means your classrooms are filled with students who have jobs, internships, four other professors e-mailing them; All the while they are trying to stay connected to their family and social life. With that going on, one particular class is not more important to a student than the other things they have going on in their life.”  Other students, however, take a different view.  “I think it is very, very rude towards the professor and distracting to the fellow students. I think it’s just as bad as talking when the professor is talking,” says Marci Risch, a student in Liberal Studies.  Aaron Hatch, a Rider graduate student in the school’s psychology program compares texting to the days of passing notes. “It’s disruptive for the class and the teacher, but it also takes the student’s attention away from what’s being taught.”

Some professors also are not happy with the idea of texting in class.  Dr. Barry Janes, a professor in the communications department, says that “I think it is distracting. I think that is because I’m old school.” He believes that students text because they think they are good at multitasking. “But I haven’t seen any evidence to that effect.”  Dr. Sigfredo Hernandez, associate professor of marketing, says that texting is bothersome to the other students, since he uses team learning in class.  He explains that, “I think that’s better than answering their (students) cellphones in class but it is still a distraction because I use team learning in my class.  It is particularly distracting when students in their teams are working on a task and one of the team members is texting.”

Dr. Yun Xia, professor of communication, says that in a survey he conducted over the summer, roughly two – thirds of students who responded admitted to texting “… at least five times each week.  You calculate (it) and you have once every day…”, he says.

According to the survey, Dr. Xia says that texting is “a real common problem in the classroom.” The problem is common, with many students admitting to texting more than once each week.  In addition, Dr. Xia reveals that students spend between ten to fifteen minutes of class time texting, which can distract from learning. One of the main reasons they do this, he says, is “to find out what their friends are doing.”  However, there may be a silver lining to text messaging during class:  A small fraction of the respondents said they text their peers to enhance learning.  “Once in a while, they don’t understand what’s going on in the class.  They text message their friends and ask them, ‘What’s going on? What does this term mean? What does that’ they have a question, they need help.”  He also says that texting their friends helps with group work.  While text messaging, he continues, is mostly done by students trying to connect socially, it can be useful sometimes.  “So text messaging is not a hundred percent bad.  We hope that part [texting to get help] becomes bigger, that is the small number of students who can get some help.”

So while there may be differing opinions on the subject, the debate on whether texting is good may not be going away anytime soon.  As Andrea Panno says, “To penalize students for using their phones in class is simply unrealistic and unacceptable because society is now a multitasking community that feeds off of constant and instant communication.”

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