October 24th, 2014

Texting in Class: Extent, Attitudes, Other Interesting Information


People text almost everywhere nowadays, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that students are doing it in class. In this study of almost 300 marketing majors at two different universities, 98 percent reported that they texted during class. They reported receiving just about as many texts as they sent. Perhaps most troubling in these findings were students’ attitudes about texting. Here’s a sample:

  • Sixty-four percent said they were texting in class because “I just wanted to communicate,” and 48 percent said, “I was bored … helped to pass the time.”
  • Fifty-six percent indicated that they were currently taking a course where texting was banned; 49 percent reported that they continued to text even with the ban.
  • Sixty-one percent agreed that they should not text during class; 32 percent agreed that they could text without the teacher knowing; 32 percent indicated that they thought the teacher knew they were texting.
  • Forty-seven percent reported that they could text and follow a lecture at the same time.
  • Forty-seven percent also believed that texting during class does not influence grades on exams or quizzes.

The article contains a literature review with references to many current surveys documenting the use of cell phones and texting during class. The findings of these descriptive studies are succinctly summarized in the table included in the article. In a 2010 survey, 82 percent of a 200-student cohort said they texted in class; in a 2011 survey, 79 percent of an 805-student cohort reported texting in class.

The authors of this article also summon an especially impressive amount of evidence on multitasking. They succinctly and clearly explain the physiological reasons why it is difficult for human brains to do more than one thing at a time and conclude “The problem inherent with multitasking and learning, as expressed by the model [a metacognitive model explained and referenced in the article], is starkly rudimentary. Meaningful learning requires substantial cognitive processing, but the learner’s capacity for cognitive processing is severely limited.” (p. 27) Multitasking hinders mental fluidity, and given that the capacity to process sensory input is innate, multitasking a lot (texting regularly in all one’s classes) does not increase the ability or overcome the negative consequences. If you’d like to explain to your students why the beliefs many of them hold about their ability to multitask are specious, this article is a great resource.

A bit surprisingly, this study did not find a relationship between texting and GPA. In other words, there was no correlation between the amount students reported texting and their overall college GPA (which was not self-reported). However, a positive relationship has been reported in other research, and in this study, the students who received the most texts in the course from which the study cohort was drawn did more poorly in that course. The researchers describe the relationship between texting and grades as complicated. They offer several possible explanations for the lack of relation found in their study.

Reference: Clayson, D.E., and Haley, D.A. (2013). “An introduction to multitasking and texting: Prevalence and impact on grades and GPA in marketing.” Journal of Marketing Education, 35 (1), 26–40.

Reprinted from Texting: Extent, Attitudes, Other Interesting Information, The Teaching Professor, 27.5 (2013): 4-5. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

  • drhultberg

    A small correction, according to Clayson and Haley's paper "only" 86 percent of the students texted during class; the 98 percent number refers to the portion of students who texted during the term (that is, an attempt to distinguish "texters" from "non-texters").

  • Megan

    When 86% are doing something in class that will lower their performance, it would be more difficult to find statistically significant correlation between the degree to which they report doing it and their performance. The supposedly non texting sample size is only about 40. Deciding not to text is not a measure of your gpa, so one is inevitably comparing one broad distribution with another to see if the average is different.

  • Sheri LIndquist

    I am amazed that this is still an issue in 2014. I have a rather lengthy discussion the first week of class that includes the kinds of behaviors I expect from college students in a professional setting. My class meetings are no-cell zones and once I explain "why" I have no problems with this issue. On the day that I painstakingly cover the syllabus, I explain the reasons for each and every rule and expectation during class meetings and, now and then, I just stop talking, pull out my phone and text a couple of lines, and then set my phone down in full sight of all. By the time I get to the cell phone policy, the students see not only how unprofessional that behavior is but also how distracting. I also do a whole stand up routine that concerns a text-er and the impact on those who sit near him/her. It always gets a laugh and the point is well made. I've had no resentment nor any violators. At the top of each class, as I take roll, I gently remind everyone to stow their phones so that they can get their money's worth during class. Try it; forget about these useless stats and get the students to buy in to the idea of "distraction" and "courtesy."

    • Sandra O

      I agree with you. Thanks for your ideas. I will try some of this in my classes

    • Zooey

      I agree with you Sheri. But I'm an ESL teacher, with rather a small class, so I expect the students to be actually engaging in the lesson, rather than just listening to a lecture. I think a lecture course might be very different – in fact when I go to lectures I sometimes text, and yes, if I'm bored.

  • I permit and n fact encourage all of my students to bring their smart phones, iPads, Laptops, etc to class, as I want them to look up things that we come across in our discussions but do not know the answer. It works. I also am aware of students texting in class and that when they are doing this, their concentration is on the text message and not what I am saying in class. Now that may be due to the fact that I am not very interesting in my lecture and the students are bored. I try not to lecture any more but to have a class discussion on the topic at hand, but sometimes we just have to get across certain information in a limited time. I have not solved the problem, but I let my students know that texting their friends is NOT permitted in my class, and if I see them with their phone under the table and their heads down, then I call on them to answer a question. That gets their attention, and they know what I am doing.

  • Perry Shaw

    Of course, there is no secret that successful students engage in wise behaviors such as shutting off their mobiles and sitting at the front of the class. However, it can also be said that successful teachers engage in wise instructional behaviors such that students are so engaged in learning that they have neither the inclination nor the time to text. My experience is that whenever I shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on engaged learning texting becomes a non-issue. This requires that as great an attention be paid to instructional methodology as to content, and involves taking risks with creative approaches and letting go of my control of the class – but it results in fewer negative behaviors and greater learning.

  • David

    Can we all just please accept that students are doing this and work to engage them better in the classroom to get verified information that they are retaining knowledge?

    I am just confused at why faculty believe that because they tell students to not use their cell phones in class it would work. Does it work anywhere else in society? No.

  • Jenny

    I can see how texting may be a distraction. I also agree that engaging students in activities is beneficial and keeps them from texting. I am assuming that as college students they have paid for the course and it is in their best interests to learn so that they can perform better on tests or when writing papers. So why can't they just be left alone to manage this independently?

  • sharon

    Well, for one thing, it is not equal grading to give the same participation grade to a student who is texting (and by the way, busy hiding the texting – which must be another multitask (sneaking) as to the students who are engaged, taking notes, answering questions, asking relevant questions.