Understanding and Reacting to the Digital Distraction Phenomenon in College Classrooms

Understanding and Reacting to the Digital Distraction Phenomenon in College Classrooms

Abraham E. Flanigan, Wayne A. Babchuk, Jackie HeeYoung Kim
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9243-4.ch001
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Student use of digital devices for non-class purposes has become ubiquitous in college classrooms across the globe—a phenomenon commonly referred to as digital distraction. The purpose of the chapter is to provide readers with an overview of the prevalence of student digital distraction in college classrooms, an understanding of the factors that contribute to student digital distraction, and a summary of the outcomes experienced by students who succumb to digital distraction during class. The reviewed research indicates that mobile phones and laptop computers are the devices used most for off-task purposes during class. Environmental and person-centered factors appear especially consequential for the motivational interference potential of mobile devices in college classrooms. Unfortunately, student digital distraction has deleterious effects on student learning and the quality of student-instructor rapport in college classrooms. The chapter concludes with descriptions of five strategies college instructors can use to curb student digital distraction in their classrooms.
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Prevalence Of Digital Distraction

Student use of digital devices for off-task purposes is commonplace in college classrooms across the globe. Whether students are taking courses in the United States (Chen et al., 2020), China (Wu et al., 2018), South Africa (Parry & le Roux, 2018), France (Jamet et al., 2020), Canada (Wammes et al., 2019), Germany (Vorderer et al., 2016), Turkey (Demirbilek & Talan, 2018), South Korea (Kim et al., 2019) or elsewhere, they have admitted to or been observed regularly using digital devices for off-task purposes during class. Off-task device use occurs whether students are listening to lectures (Wammes et al., 2019) or working in small groups (Wood et al., 2018). Many students experience digital distraction on an ongoing basis throughout the semester, with only a slight drop-off in frequency occurring around the time of midterm exams (Kim et al., 2019). Although many devices can be used for off-task purposes (such as phones, tablets, laptops, smartwatches, and more), research indicates that two devices—mobile phones and laptop computers—are the devices most misused by undergraduates (Jamet et al., 2020; McCoy, 2016). The following two subsections summarize the prevalence of the misuse of mobile phones and laptop computers during typical class periods in undergraduate classrooms.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Habitual Distraction: Aagaard’s (2015) term for the phenomenon of students finding themselves succumbing to digital distraction during class without making the conscious choice or planning to do so.

Mobile Technology: Electronic devices that can be taken with users (e.g., smart phones, laptop computers, tablets) and used on-the-go without being tethered to a power source.

Digital Distraction: Student misuses of mobile technology for leisure purposes while attending to academic tasks inside and outside of the classroom.

Automatic Thinking Behavior (ATB) Perspective: Contends that individuals automatically engage in habitual behavior with little or no planning or consideration of the reasons and consequences.

Student-Instructor Rapport: Student and instructor perceptions of a harmonious interpersonal relationship.

Self-Regulation of Learning: The process through which individuals assume autonomy over their learning outcomes through deliberate application of task-appropriate strategies.

Motivational Interference: The disruption to on-task motivation stemming from the presence of readily available leisure alternatives to an academic task.

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