Teachers who demand that smartphones play no part in their classroom might be on to something if the findings of a recent study are to be believed. According to a 2012 study from Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, students who used social medial like Facebook or Twitter and texted in class reported lower GPAs than their peers who did not.
The problem is widespread. The Lock Haven researchers polled more than 1,800 students for their study, and nearly 70% of them reported using their smartphones in class to text or communicate with a friend. Reynol Junco, one of the chief authors of the study, said that the link between texting and lower GPA was strong enough to be considered causal.
There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered about the benefits of technology in class, but according to Junco, on at least one issue the outcome is definitive. Using Facebook during class time is a bad idea if good grades and knowledge acquisition is the goal.
"That I can be definitive about: That's not working. If you're going to search (online) during class, I don't have any data telling you to stop. If you're going to email during class, I don't have any data to tell you to stop. But do not text or Facebook during class. Do not text or Facebook while you're studying for your classes, because that's another area where this is definitely a negative."
Today's young adults are texting at unprecedented rates, with recent studies indicating that they send and receive about 200 texts a day and spend over six hours a day using technologies such as Facebook, text messaging, instant messaging, email and Internet search engines.
Some believe proselytizing against the use of technology in the classroom is the equivalent of shouting into the wind — not that there haven't been those who've tried. Among those who are excited about the potential of things like Twitter, Facebook and other internet tolls in education, there are just as many who are worried about them as if they were an academic Trojan Horse bringing distractions and inattention but not academic benefits.
People on both sides of the debate can even be found in the same school. According to the Chicago Tribune, there are professors at Emerson College in Boston who embrace and advocate technology and those who are wary of it. According to one student, some of his professors allow use of phones and tablets in class while others forbid it.
For researchers, texting in class falls into the broader category of multitasking, or doing two or more things at once, a practice that has often been linked to poor performance.
"You can multitask if the tasks you are doing are quite different," says Laura Levine, co-author of a review of the research on mobile media multitasking that appeared last year in the International Journal of Cyber Behavior.
"I can iron and watch television or cook dinner and listen to the radio. But if you're trying to do two intellectual tasks at the same time, that's simply not the way our brain operates. What happens for 99 percent of us is that instead of doing two things at once, we're switching, from this thing to that thing, from this thing to that thing, from this thing to that thing.