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Students admit that laptops and smartphones are distracting, but blame teachers for this

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Posted June 26, 2019

People love learning, but hate studying. Connect this simple truth of life with the fact that people are very easily distracted and you will not be surprised to know that most university students admit browsing internet or even watching Youtube videos while listening to a lecture. In fact, a new study from the University of Waterloo revealed that many students believe that it is lecturer’s fault that they cannot pay attention.

Phones and laptops are distracting for young students, but some are still blaming teachers for not being interesting enough. Image credit: Vgmarina via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Scientists surveyed 478 undergraduates and 36 instructors on their perception of technology use in class. Researchers wanted to see what actually distracts students in terms of technology. They found that 9 % of students find course materials on other students’ laptops is distracting, while 49 % of surveyed students felt the same about non-course material on other people’s laptops. This is a big problem, because nowadays most people use laptops in classes, but they are not distracting just others – they are distracting their owners too.

Many students said that they can use their technology in whatever way they want, because they are paying for education. This is why many students are using their laptops to catch up with other classes or even to watch something more entertaining. Furthermore, many students believe it is instructor’s responsibility to make the class entertaining.

Elena Neiterman, co-author of the study, said: “Some students said that instructors need to be more entertaining to keep students engaged in the classroom, but this a big ask, given that we are not employed in the entertainment industry. There is also a question of what we are preparing our students for: If we are training them for future employment, we might need to teach them to focus even if the class is ‘boring.’”

However, while students are saying that it is their right to use technology in whatever the way they see fit, 68 % stated that the use of phones in the classroom bothers them. 32 % were bothered by the use of laptops too – this number is lower because it is generally assumed that laptops are used solely for studying purposes.

So what is the solution? Should technology be banned from classes? Should instructors learn to be more entertaining?

Scientists say that technology makes education more accessible. Banning it would be a terrible idea. This would not discourage bad students from using the technology. However, it would prevent good students from using their computers for what they are for – for studying. Finally, who would police such thing? Who would walk around the classroom taking away laptops and smartphones from people?

The better solution is encouraging motivated students and making classes more engaging. When questions may come at any time, students are more likely to listen. And instructors themselves have to be prepared to teach classes of 21st century – making them interested is going to be challenging and they will have to find ways around the distractions.

 

Source: University of Waterloo

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