LINCOLN — Emily Nemec's eyes sometimes wander during class, away from the professor's lecture.
At times, it might be daydreaming. But other times, she's checking her phone. Or her eyes fall on a classmate's computer screen while he or she is sifting through Tumblr or Facebook.
“It's very distracting sometimes,” said Nemec, a freshman from Chicago who is majoring in business administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In a recent study led by a UNL professor, college students admitted that they often use laptops, tablets and smartphones during class for nonacademic purposes.
The typical student in the survey used electronic devices in class “four to 10” times a day. But about 30 percent did so 11 or more times a day. Just 8 percent said they never played with their phones or surfed the Internet.
Four out of five students said using the devices caused them to miss instruction. About 27 percent said their grades suffered as a result.
Barney McCoy, a UNL associate broadcasting professor, said he wanted to quantify how often students block out their professors to type a text message or check Facebook.
“I can't tell you how many times I've seen students distracted by smartphones and laptops in class,” McCoy said.
During the 2012 fall semester, 777 students at six universities — including UNL, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of North Carolina — took McCoy's 15-question survey.
Texting was the top classroom use, with 86 percent of students saying they had done that. “Checking the time” came in second, followed by email, social networking and Web surfing. Only 8 percent admitted to playing games in class.
Students said the biggest advantages to using technology in class were staying connected, fighting boredom and doing related classwork. Disadvantages included not paying attention, missing instruction and getting called out by the professor.
“Students want to be connected at all times,” McCoy said. “We have gotten so conditioned that when our cellphone beeps or buzzes at us, we instinctively look down at it.”
McCoy said electronic devices aren't always a bad thing in the classroom. For example, he said, students use their laptops to take notes or search for a subject he talks about in class.
It's all about finding a balance, McCoy said.
Nemec, who receives an academic scholarship from UNL, said she hardly uses her computer for anything other than note-taking, and she checks her phone sparingly.
“College gives students more of an opportunity to show what kind of student they want to be,” Nemec said. “You have to be able to motivate yourself to pay attention in class.”
But students continue to check those smartphones or post a tweet during class.
Nicolas Thayer, a junior biology major, said he surfs the Internet more during classes that aren't directed toward his major because he just wants to fight boredom.
“It probably affects my grade, but I'm just not interested in some of those subjects,” he said.
McCoy feels the solution to the technology bug is communication. Students should respect that others may be affected by their use of electronic devices in the classroom while also realizing the importance of paying attention in class, he said.
“We just need to say to students 'Let's have a dialogue here,' ” McCoy said. “We are all prone to these distractions. Is it really an emergency to send that text to that person? It's important that we continue to monitor it and make sure we are all on the same page on agreeing when it's appropriate.”