As technology advances, smartphones are becoming a larger part in a growing number of students’ lives, serving as both a source of information and connection to friends and family, but also as a distraction.
According to a 2014 study conducted by Pew Research Center on smartphone ownership, as of January 2014, 58 percent of American adults owned a smartphone of some kind. The same study showed that ownership was particularly high among those in their twenties and thirties.
This is an increase of 13 percentage points from what was reported in February of 2012 and an increase of two percentage points from what was recorded in May of 2013 for the amount of adults that owned smartphones.
Michigan State University Professor of Psychology Dr. Linda Jackson said technology has been having a tremendous impact on students’ lives.
In an email interview Jackson said, “Just count the number of students walking around or entering or leaving class with a cell phone ‘attached’ to the ears. Consider the number of text messages students send and receive each day.”
According to a 2012 “Teen, Smartphones & Texting” study conducted by Pew Research Center, in 2009 the median number of texts sent on a typical day by a teenager was 50 and rose to 60 texts by 2011.
Jackson, whose current research explores the effects of information technology use on cognitive, social, psychological and moral development said that technology and social media take time way from students.
“It pervades all aspects of a student’s life, from social relationships with family and friends to academic performance to time for other pursuits.”
Lauren Keiser, a MSU psychology student and owner of a smartphone, said her phone can be a distraction, but she finds that having a smartphone is overall beneficial. She said she mainly uses it to send emails, stay organized and keep up with social media.
“I don’t watch a lot of TV so [social media] is my source for current events… it’s like the world is at my fingertips,” said Keiser. “I use calendars to keep appointments and things. I actually use an app for homework where it keeps track of due dates which is helpful.”
Fellow MSU psychology student Aubrey Gilliland said she uses her smartphone for the same purposes, but that being in constant contact with everything through her phone can get annoying.
Gilliland said, “I’m not one to text people all the time and when that is something that other people do it gets annoying.”
Gilliland also said that having a smartphone is beneficial academically.
“Group messaging for group projects is really helpful because if we all have iPhones we can group message to find time to work together rather then have to email everyone or call them separately,” she said.
Gilliland said her smartphone could be a distraction but that it depends on the size of the class.
“I’m less likely to use [my smartphone] in smaller classes but in big lecture halls it is tempting,” she said.
A University of Nebraska-Lincoln study said on average, the typical college student plays with a digital device 11 times a day while in class and over 80 percent of the students in the study said that the use of their digital device can interfere with their learning.
Dr. Karen Riggs, a professor of media studies at Ohio University, said in an email interview that there are those negative implications to smartphone usage.
“Communication networks and apps on mobile phones can distract students from face-to-face communication and studies,” said Riggs. “They can also interfere with the classroom experience for which they pay so dearly. If you’re texting, even though you might think you can multi-task well, you’re likely to miss some important things in class.”
Riggs, whose research focuses on media and age, said she does believe that smartphones are both beneficial and functional.
“Both phone and texting are a great means to keep in touch with friends and family. Students can make plans, keep up with others when they can’t be together in person, and pursue casual conversation,” said Riggs. “Social network functions are just as important. Keeping in touch and up to date on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and now Snapchat, adds value to mobile devices that suit students’ lifestyles.”
She also said that students can best utilize their smartphones by using them as digital planners and by taking advantage of more easily accessible communication with professors.
“Instructors are increasingly using social networks like Twitter to make announcements and encourage conversation,” said Riggs.
Jackson said that when used properly, technology has the potential to improve academic performance.
“Psychologically there is evidence that technology use can increase self-esteem, self-competency and self-efficacy, “ said Jackson. ”In lay terms, knowing how to use technology can make you feel better about yourself overall, feel more competent and believe you can do things you want to do.”