Tweeting And Texting In Class May Distract Students, But It May Also Help Them Learn: Study

teen texting
Texting may often serve as a distraction among students in the classroom, but professors are slowly figuring out that they can use smartphones to help kids learn. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Gone are the days when kids would get in trouble for passing notes in class. Today’s youngsters are much more sophisticated, technologically speaking, than those who grew up in the days of flip phones and CD players — let alone those whose only access to a phone growing up was a spin-dial one. This means there’s a lot more texting, tweeting, and Facebooking on smartphones in your average high school or college classroom than ever before.

Does this also mean that kids today are way more distracted by the bombardment of information reaching them via their tablets and iPhones? A new study out of the National Communication Association wanted to find out whether increased smartphone and social media use in class impacted student learning — and what they found was that it had both negative and positive effects.

In the study, researchers analyzed kids who were using phones in class to respond to text messages — both relevant and irrelevant to the class material. They measured the type of messages and the frequency of them, and found that students who were texting about the material actually scored higher on multiple choice tests about the subject than those who were texting about non-class related things.

Texting As Taking Notes?

One of the best ways to study and encode information in your brain is to digest and regurgitate that information to someone else. In other words, telling your friends about what you’re studying (in a casual way) helps jog your memory when you’re being tested on the info.

The researchers of the study thus conclude that texting about class material does something similar to students’ memories. “[S]ending or receiving relevant messages may allow students to engage in similar processes as those that occur during note-taking,” the authors write. Ultimately, communication is a good helper to studying, as long as it remains on topic.

Interestingly, some professors and schools are actually attempting to incorporate texting into their class curriculum, in the hopes of drawing their students in through something they love to do. Texting is, after all, a form of writing — and past research has shown that “texting slang” doesn’t always impact a kid’s grammar skills negatively. In fact, it might help them: “Encourage your students to write often — whether through email, instant messaging, texting, blogging, or another medium — and recognize that all writing is important,” PowerUp writes on its website. “Recent research has shown that students who regularly use ‘text speak’ have better word recognition, vocabulary, and phonological awareness.”

In addition to student learning, texting has also been shown to be helpful in managing mental illness and remembering to take medication properly.

So there you have it: Either put your phone away and pay attention in class, or text your friends, but do so about the information you’ve just learned. You’ll be more likely to remember it later: just some study tips in the age of information.

Source: Kuznekoff J, Titsworth S. Mobile Phones in the Classroom: Examining the Effects of Texting, Twitter, and Message Content on Student Learning. Communication Education. 2015.

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