The Distracted Student: Mobile Media in University Classrooms Around the World

Research Professor Robert Shuter and Associate Professor Pauline Hope Cheong examined students' overt and clandestine uses of Smartphones and laptops in university classrooms in US, Europe and Asia, and how instructors manage these devices in light of their potential impact on learning, attention and class participation.

Professors Cheong’s and Shuter’s research indicates that most high schools and many universities in the US restrict the use of smartphones in the classroom.  Despite the potential educational value, most U.S. educators, high schools, and universities believe that mobile devices are a distraction to attention, learning and participation and, if permitted in the classroom, must be closely monitored. 

Research findings with over 560 U.S. university students indicated that they do not believe that smartphones or laptops in the classroom disrupt their attention, learning or participation and actually believe they can assist learning and are critical to their safety so should be left on at all times.

Most U.S. faculty interviewed had specific rules in their syllabi for utilizing all digital devices in class with penalties for rule violations, including total bans on students’ phones and laptops in class.  Some instructors use strategic redirection of students’ attention (wireless clickers, online searches), with a smaller percentage using discursive sanctions which includes public humiliation, personal reprimands, and disabling wireless access.   

Regardless of the approach, the research shows that university instructors are not sure how to successfully manage students’ mobile devices in their classrooms.

This international, cross-cultural project investigating mobile media use and classroom management in university classrooms across the world has resulted in presentations at major international conferences and articles in the communication discipline’s major flagship journals.

The Journal of International and Intercultural Communication and Communication Education

The influence of cultural values on U.S. and Danish students’ digital behavior: Exploring culture, new media, and social context

Communication Education

Managing student digital distractions and hyperconnectivity: Communication strategies and challenges for professorial authority

Professors Shuter and Cheong are available for interviews and further description of their research project.  They can be reached at robert.shuter@asu.edu & pauline.cheong@asu.edu.