Texting during class: another moral panic?

Multitasking is something that’s been heavily debated for many years.

Who can do it?

Who shouldn’t do it?

When is it inappropriate?

While multitasking is a part of everyday life, it is increasingly coming under fire for interfering with peoples’ lives.

Specifically, when it comes to young people and learning, many are concerned that having too many electronic ‘distractions’, such as smartphones or laptops, can be detrimental to a person’s ability to achieve.

This is just one of many voices expressing this opinion:

According to Faculty Focus, there have been multiple studies proving a connection between the use of devices in conjunction with learning and decreased academic achievement.

One of the studies referenced, The effect of multitasking on the grade performance of business students, specifically measures the relationship between texting in class and information retention. They divided a class of 62 undergraduate business students in two. Half could text during class, half could not. All students were quizzed at the end of class.

The experiment proved that students who texted during class were more likely to receive lower grades. However, there were several flaws in the experiment. For instance ‘multitasking by texting’ was classified as sending three pre-planned messages to the lecturer.

In my experience, multitasking with a smartphone usually involves more than three, random texts.

However, this study supports multiple studies that say the same thing. There is a massive amount of information and research going into the concept of multi-tasking, and whether students in the digital age are suffering because of it.

However, I think that a lot of this can be boiled down to moral panicGen Y learners: just how concerned should we be? Tells of how there is actually very little representative information about Gen Y, apart from U.S university studies.  A lot of the studies appear to be based around the notion that young people are particularly susceptible to the dangers of new technologies.

However, people forget that students have always been distracted. If it wasn’t Facebook it was passing notes. Instead of playing Candy Crush it was drawing graffiti on the desk. And instead of texting people it was daydreaming.

Devices just provide another avenue to dispel fidgeting, boredom and general lack of interest. It’s not that attention spans that have altered dramatically, it’s just the way that young people these days operate.

Until more studies are done, we really can’t say for sure whether or not multitasking during class affects learning.



Ellis, Y, Daniels, B, Jauregui, A 2010, ‘The Effect of Multitasking on the Grade Performance of Business Students’, Research in Higher Education Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 1-10.


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