As Alex Coe sat in a recent Religion 220 class, his iPhone buzzed in his pocket.
Coe, a junior majoring in religion and political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, read the Facebook message and couldn't resist responding — to a question about whether his phone is a distraction in school. The answer was obvious.
"I'm aware of it now even, haha," Coe typed, as his professor lectured about Buddhist principles. "It takes away from my retention of the lecture."
Updated research from UNL shows that Coe isn't alone. Barney McCoy, a UNL associate professor of broadcasting, examined students' use of digital devices for non-class purposes while in the classroom.
On average, students reported spending 20 percent of their classroom time using digital devices for non-educational purposes: text messaging, emailing and checking social media. McCoy's work was published last month in the Journal of Media Education.
Technology "is giving us apps to do things we've never done before, and that can be both productive and counterproductive," McCoy said.
The 675 students who participated in the survey used phones and other digital devices in class an average of 11 times a day.
Nearly 30 percent believed that they could use their digital devices without distracting from their learning, and 13 percent said the benefit of using digital devices for non-class purposes outweighed the negative impact of the distraction. More than 11 percent said they couldn't stop themselves from using digital devices.
McCoy said he thinks students and faculty must make a joint effort to curb the practice.
"The primary reason students say they do it is because they say they get bored in the classroom," he said. "I think that's a challenge to those of us teaching: to make our instruction as meaningful and focused as we possibly can. And students need to remind themselves why they're in the classroom."
The findings show an increase from a similar study McCoy conducted in 2013, when students reported using electronic devices in class four to 10 times a day.
Coe said that although he can't always resist, he often does wait until after class to check his phone.
McCoy said students need to make a concerted effort to put down their phones.
"For the next 50 minutes, shut the device off — almost like 'airplane mode.' Maybe we need to call it 'classroom mode,' " McCoy said and laughed.
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"I think that's a challenge to those of us teaching: to make our instruction as meaningful and focused as we possibly can."
Barney McCoy, UNL professor