Educator Perceptions of Digital Devices: Multitasking and Distractions in the Classroom

Educator Perceptions of Digital Devices: Multitasking and Distractions in the Classroom

Julie A. Delello, Jean Kiekel, Susan R. Poyo, Mia Kim Williams, Deborah Kerby
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2914-0.ch008
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There is a growing concern regarding student use of digital devices such as smartphones during classroom instruction. This pilot study used a mixed-method survey to collect data from 146 K-16 educators. Eighty percent of the participants said that students multitask, and 50% said they multitask a lot. Many of the instructors reported they are distracted by students' use of phones while more than half of the participants indicated they felt doing multiple tasks at the same time disrupts class time and may impact a students' ability to learn. These findings have important implications because classroom instructors may need to modify instructional strategies to keep students on task, have clear policies on the use of electronic devices, and ensure that students understand instructor expectations.
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Society has become subjected to an unprecedented number of interruptions (Anderson & Rainie, 2014). In fact, we have become a generation of people who are “always-on” and “always connected.” We read, answer the phone, watch television, listen to music, interact with social media, and text while commuting, and many times we perform several of these tasks at the same time (Mokhtari, Delello, & Reichard, 2015). Goleman (2013) suggested that we have a divided attention as we attend to multiple stimulations at the same time. Such an “explosion of news streams, emails, phone calls, tweets, blogs, charts, reflections about opinions that we expose our cognitive processors to daily” (Goleman, 2013, p. 56) may be a source of brain interference leading to cognitive overload.

According to Cisco (2019), 8.4 billion hand-held, mobile-ready devices will be utilized globally by the year 2020. Statista (2019) reported that the number of cell phone users will exceed five billion in 2019. In addition, mobile devices are fast becoming part of students’ lives. In fact, almost half (45%) of U.S. children aged 10 to 12 have a smartphone, while 97% of U.S. teens aged 13 to 17 own a device that is capable of connecting to the Internet such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop (Howard, 2017; Rideout & Robb, 2018). According to Common Sense Media (2017), 35% of children under the age of eight use mobile devices, spending an average use time of 48 minutes per day. The average age of smartphone ownership is 10.3 years of age (Ruston, 2017). Further, 95% of teenagers own a smartphone or have access to one, and of these teens, 45% are online constantly (Anderson & Jiang, 2018). Most use their smartphones to access social media “including 16 percent who use it almost constantly and another 22 percent who use it several times an hour” (Common Sense Media, 2018, p. 11).

Cell phone addiction has become a serious concern, enough so that smartphone manufacturers are now making software available to help people avoid it (Bank My Cell, 2019). Some researchers have reported that almost 50% of teenagers are addicted to their cell phones with almost 25% claiming an addiction to social media (Common Sense Media, 2018). Additionally, 75% of teens said they felt compelled to respond immediately to texts and social media posts (Rosen, Whaling, Rab, Carrier, & Cheever, 2013). As defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (2011), addiction is a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry” (para. 1) and it indicates an individual's inability to control their own behavior.

Researchers have noted that the use of digital devices such as smartphones may enhance classroom learning; however, distractions and student dependency may also create disruptions (Anshari, Almunawar, Shahrill, Wicaksono, & Huda, 2017). Glass and Kang (2018) stated, “The intrusion of internet-enabled devices (laptop, tablet, and cell phone)” (p. 395) has created a classroom of distracted students who are attention divided. As a result, an increasing number of schools are limiting or prohibiting the use of mobile devices in classrooms.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Media Multitasking: S imultaneous use of media.

Mobile Technologies: Technology that is easily moved from place to place such as Smartphones.

Emerging Technologies: New technology or one that is in continual development.

Web 2.0: Next generation of internet technologies that allow for social collaboration.

Cognitive Load: The amount of information the brain is able to process.

Ubiquitous Computing: Technology that can be accessed anywhere and at any time.

Disruptive Technologies: Innovative technologies that may disrupt current markets.

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