Students Present Research at Southwestern Psychological Association Conference

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On April 8, 2011, Dr. Arn Froese and Sterling College students presented their paper, “Cell Phones in the Classroom: Professor and Student Perception Differences” at the Southwestern Psychological Association (SWPA) conference.

SWPA’s President, Dr. Froese, gave a presidential address describing the results of a two-year research program on texting in college classrooms. That research program included surveys about student texting and an experiment documenting student performance changes as a function of texting during a presentation. The surveys documented the prevalence of texting in various contexts, including the classroom, students’ expectations of the effects of texting on their learning, and differences between students and their faculty in perceptions of classroom policies to regulate texting. Students admit that they expect to lose information because they text, and students perceive texting as less distracting than their professors do. Students also see more texting in their classrooms than do their professors, and view many attempts to control texting as less effective than do their professors. The experiment documented information loss estimated at 27% for those texting compared with those not texting during a presentation.

Froese described implications of these findings for classroom teachers. Texting is only one of many potential distractions for students. An effective teacher is aware of multiple distraction sources and monitors student reception of material during a presentation. New technology in cars assists drivers with staying in their lanes and braking when cars slow down in front of them. Here is an analogy for the classroom. The student is the driver, but the teacher assists the student, calling the student back to the relevant content when the student’s attention wanders from the learning goals.

Froese punctuated his presentation in multiple ways. Videos illustrated the unique car functions, and showed both a student distracted during class and a convention attendee checking facebook during an SWPA presentation last year. Music conveyed significant messages related to the topic, and included a song from NPR’s “Car Talk” on the disastrous effects of texting while driving. Froese sang several times during the presentation to illustrate points. The chorus from Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille” illustrated distraction from sources other than modern technology. Froese ended his presentation with new words written for the tune “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” singing instead about “Will attention be united in the classroom by and by.”

Attendees responded enthusiastically to Froese’s presentation with a standing ovation. Sterling student, Michael Baxter, posted his review on the department Facebook page, saying “it was like a movie theater, comedy club, concert and wonderfully educational talk all at once...brilliant!”

Eleven current Sterling College students accompanied Froese to the convention. Jessica Schooley and Michael Baxter, members of the research team, presented the Saturday morning talk in a session about teaching. They elaborated on recent survey results about faculty and student perceptions of texting in the classroom. Half of the Sterling College faculty agreed to present the surveys to their classes, and faculty from two other colleges collected surveys from their classes. The results summarized information from over 700 students in 38 different classes.

Faculty vary considerably in their view of the distracting effects of texting. This variation is related to different approaches to dealing with texting in classrooms. The most important finding was that students perceive faculty who deal with texting indirectly—either ignoring it, or using eye-contact or body placement to attempt regulation—as less effective in handling texting than faculty who are direct in responding to texting.