Studies Show Sharp Divide Regarding Technology in the Classroom

Sep 2, 2016

Smartphones are everywhere in our lives today. It often takes an extraordinary set of circumstances for us not to be connected in multiple ways with the wider world, whether we're checking our email on an airplane or surfing the web before shutting off the light and going to sleep.

When it comes to smartphones, tablets and laptops in the college classroom, the situation can become thorny. Two recent studies co-authored by Dr. Robert Shuter, professor emeritus of communication studies at Marquette and a research professor at Arizona State University, show a wide gulf between the attitude of faculty members and that of students in how devices affect - or should affect - the classroom environment. 

The studies appeared in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication and the journal Communication Education, and each show that students felt pretty strongly about the positive value of devices, while faculty saw them as a distraction.

"We're seeing real disconnects that are really kind of sad as it were, given how significant technology can be on a positive side in the classroom," says Shuter.

Shuter notes that faculty members play a central role in the United Stated in the dissemination of information, and more importantly the evaluation of students. The faculty members observed in the study expressed frustration concerning devices in the classroom.

"It clearly is a disruption to that authority because in truth it challenges the university faculty member in the class," says Shuter.

In addition to challenging faculty authority, the negative attitude towards technology often changes the focus of the classroom to becoming "extremely counterproductive" according to Shuter.

"Faculty members just are totally unwilling to accept the potential value of these in the classroom and rely on strategies in the classroom that are often very punitive," he says.

While some teachers do make their material accessible online for students to access both inside and outside of the classroom, Shuter sees the key issue is the attitude towards technology in higher education compared to the integration of technology in grade schools and high schools.

"It's clear that the professor has to continue managing (devices), because they do have a potential for distraction, there's no question about it," he says. "But management can happen. The key issue I think is the negative digital mindset that many university instructors have with the respect to the positive value of these technologies in the classroom."

This piece originally aired June 15, 2016.