A ringing distraction

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Research

A ringing distraction

Alexander Graham Bell kicked off this social network that has crossed a contested border.

By Joe DiGiovanni, Jour ’87

Just about every student can recall an instance when a ringing cell phone disrupted class and distracted the instructor. American students tend to consider it a light-hearted distraction. Do students elsewhere hold a different opinion? Dr. Robert Shuter surveyed 920 college students in the United States and India, and found the answer is yes.

Students hold widely divergent views on the use of smartphones, tablets and laptops in classrooms, according to Shuter’s research. The findings led the emeritus professor of communication studies in the Diederich College of Communication to believe that it may be time to re-evaluate policies. “Theories on the use of digital devices in classrooms have emerged in the United States, but this study shows they may need to be re-examined through multicultural lenses,” Shuter explains.

More American students believe the instructor should either ignore it or address it in a light-hearted way if a cell phone rings during class. Students in India want harsher penalties, believing instructors should discuss any cell phone interruption with the student the moment it happens in class, and should reprimand, discipline or impose a grade penalty.

Indian students want their university to establish digital policies for classrooms that prohibit use of devices during class unless the instructor requires it. Americans want the policies discussed in class, included on the course syllabus and established by the instructor.
More Indian students say they are distracted by the use of cell phones in class and become annoyed if a cell phone rings or makes noises. More Indian students also believe that use of a cell phone is significantly more disruptive to learning.

An interesting difference among the student groups is that American students reported owning significantly more tablets and laptops, while Indian students own significantly more desktop computers.

Shuter, who has taught in university classrooms for more than 40 years and also is a research professor at Arizona State University, has conducted several global studies on the use of digital devices in university classrooms. Other collaborators on this study include Drs. Uttaran Dutta and Pauline Cheong from Arizona State; Dr. Yashu Chen at California State University, San Marcos; and Jeff Shuter, a doctoral candidate at the University of Iowa. •

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