GLUED TO THE SCREEN

06.24.14

Is It Time for a Classroom Cellphone Ban?

Even the smartest students’ grades go down if they’re distracted by laptops and cellphones, a new study finds.

Think you’re a master in-class multi-tasker? Then think again, because a new study has discovered that even the smartest students suffer academically when using the Internet for non-educational purposes.

“The issue of multi-tasking and its consequences has become a growing concern in education, as students are more commonly found engaged with their laptops or smartphones during class time,” the paper reads. Researchers at Michigan State University found that the grades of those prone to flicking between Facebook and their English notes dropped no matter their intellectual level, meaning that even the smartest kids in school may have to start paying attention.

The study charted 500 MSU students in an introductory psychology class, monitoring their academic performance as professors competed with smartphones and laptops to get participants to engage. The more they relied upon their gadgets as a distraction—even if it was to undertake quasi-relevant activities such as reading the news—the further their grades fell.

The widely accepted hypothesis up to this point had been that active web users with lower IQs would perform more poorly in exams, but that students with a greater educational ability would be able to multi-task successfully between work and play. This study has turned that theory on its head, however, as it turns out no one is truly immune to the charms of Internet quizzes about bagels.

With laptop use such a common occurrence in classrooms, it’s hard to see a practicable solution that will let millennials both indulge in their Candy Crush-related affairs while typing up the occasional sentence their professor says. It remains unclear how to remove these distractions, though, as the paper’s lead author, Susan Ravizza, acknowledges. “What would you do, have hundreds of people put their cellphones in a pile and pick them up after class?” she asks.

It turns out no one is truly immune to the charms of Internet quizzes about bagels.

And it’s not only computer users that suffer a lapse in attention when sitting behind a screen. Their laptop-less contemporaries may also get distracted by what their friends are looking at. “I can tell when somebody’s watching kittens on their laptop, and there’s an entire sector behind them of students who can’t focus,” George Mason University professor Erik Angner told HuffPost Live. “They bother all these other students who have trouble focusing and are there to learn.”

With tuition fees at sky-high levels, it does seem a little crazy that people can’t put the tweeting on pause for an hour while they’re in class. It’s also pretty harsh that even those eager beavers who go to lessons without a laptop in tow basically get screwed over as reams of cat gifs bound into their eyeline.

Somewhat worryingly, it seems that students don’t actually realize how negatively this additional screen use impacts upon their learning, discounting the effects of time spent on their phones and laptops when considering their academic performance. While multi-tasking is—according to psychological analyses—designed to increase efficiency in our personal lives, it appears as though there are limitations, especially in the case of classroom learning.

“Students of all intellectual abilities should be responsible for not letting themselves be distracted by use of the Internet,” Ravizza advises.