Texting during class may end up hurting your grades in the long run.
Mandy Gingerich, an assistant professor of psychology, does an in-class exercise that yields data about effect of texting on grades in her cognitive processes course.
Gingerich said last January, when she led a participant idea exchange at the National Institute for the Teaching of Psychology, they discussed conducting an in-class demonstration to collect data on whether texting during class impedes comprehension.
When she returned to campus, Gingerich designed an experiment for the divided attention unit in the cognitive processes course.
For the experiment, half of the class is assigned to text each other during a lecture on time management strategies. The other half of the class does not text.
After the 10-minute lecture, students take a multiple-choice quiz.
Results from 67 students over the past three semesters show that students who text during the lecture had an average score of 60 percent. Those who did not text had a an average score of 79 percent.
“[This shows that texting] impairs comprehension of the material, which is consistent with the findings that people rely on inflexible memory systems while multitasking, which can impair learning, and that people lose time when switching from one task to another, especially when the tasks are complex or unfamiliar,” Gingerich said.
Caitlin Anderson, a junior psychology and journalism major who did not text, said it is easier for her to listen when not texting.
“I take better notes when I’m not texting, and I retain more information if my phone is out of sight,” she said.
Gingerich said during this past semester, the effect was even stronger. Students who texted got about 59 percent of their answers correct while those who did not text got about 85 percent of their answers correct.
“That’s the difference between a solid B and failing,” Gingerich said.
Anderson said she was surprised by the results.
“I knew that texting resulted in less information retained, but I didn’t know the difference between texters and non-texters was going to be that pronounced,” Anderson said. “The difference was a couple of letter grades, and I don’t think most people can afford getting Cs in classes, especially when they want to go to graduate school.”
Gingerich is still trying to decide how she feels about texting in class.
“Part of me finds it rude and certainly distracting, but it’s also important to let students make their own decisions and to learn from the decisions that hurt their ability to perform well in class,” she said.
Some students’ opinions have changed since this study, but Alex Zuber, a sophomore psychology major who was a part of the texting group, believes that this study won’t change people’s actions in class.
“I think the study was very eye-opening,” she said. “I am pretty certain, however, that those who do choose to text in class will continue to do so regardless.”
Gingerich hasn’t noted the texting behavior of specific students and mapped it on their course grades, but said it might be something to try in the future.
“I believe the study sheds light on the inherent attentional limitations that humans, specifically college students, have,” Sean Hudson, a junior psychology major who was in the non-texting group, said. “Many students feel as if they are able to divide their attention among several stimuli and still perform as well as if they were focusing their attention on one stimulus.
“As the study shows, this is just not the case.”