Effects of classroom cell phone use on expected and actual learning
Studies of driving indicate that the conversational aspects of using cell phones generate high risks from divided attention. Prior surveys document high rates at which students carry phones to and use them during class. Some experiments have demonstrated that cell phones distract students from learning. The present studies combined survey and experimental methods to determine student expectations about and actual performance under cell phone use conditions. On the survey, students estimated the number of questions they could answer out of 10 when texting and when not texting. For the experiment, we used a repeated measures design with simulated classroom presentations and measured performance on a 10-item quiz. Students expected to lose close to 30% on a quiz and actually did lose close to 30% when texting. We discuss implications of our methodology and our findings for improving student learning.
Studies of drivers using cell phones reveal that the cognitive distraction of conversations significantly increases accident risk. The National Safety Council (2010) published a literature review explaining why cognitive load from cell phones produces inattention blindness for drivers. Strayer and Johnston (2001) showed that listening to music or even to a recorded book did not produce high accident risks, as did conversing on cell phones.
These findings are important for considering the potential effects of classroom texting on students' ability to learn presented material. Texting is conversational, though it involves visual instead of auditory "listening" as students read incoming messages, and manual instead of verbal "talking" as they reply. If conversational cognitive load increases accident risk for drivers, the same cognitive load should increase errors on tests of lesson material presented while students are texting.
Researchers have explored the distracting effects of cell phones in classrooms using surveys. Many students admit to using cell phones for social networking purposes in the classroom (Bayer, Klein, & Rubinstein, 2009; Besser, 2007; Kennedy & Smith, 2010; Rubinkam, 2010). Some studies documented perceptions of distraction from phone ringing (Campbell, 2006) and from texting or sending instant messages during a class or study session (Besser, 2007; Kennedy & Smith, 2010; Levine, Waite, & Bowman, 2007). These studies employed survey responses to evaluate effects.
The typical measurement scales for such reports are quantitatively weak. For example, Besser (2007) and Kennedy and Smith (2010) measured student perceptions of the effects of cell phone use on class performance using statements with which respondents either agreed or disagreed. Besser's statement was about texting drawing attention away from class, and Kennedy and Smith's statement was about these activities helping class performance. These nominal measurements do not provide information about the quantity of expected information loss. Other researchers (Campbell, 2006; Levin, Waite, & Bowman, 2007) have expanded the number of response options. For example, Campbell (2006) used a 5-point Likert scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree to evaluate student attitudes about the disruptive effects of ringing phones. Although these scales increase response variability, there is no clear relationship between level of agreement with a statement such as "when...