Checking phones in lectures can cost students half a grade in exams

The effect of divided attention in the classroom.

Checking phones in lectures can cost students half a grade in exams
Image: iStock

According to a new study, if students are allowed to access electronic gadgets during lectures, they perform less well in end-of-term exams. In addition, when the use of electronic devices was allowed in class, performance was also poorer for students who did not use devices as well as for those who did.

In other words, the study suggests that phone/tablet use damages the group learning environment. It demonstrates a causal relationship between distraction from an electronic device and subsequent exam performance.

Scientists at the Rutgers University in the US conducted an experiment where they tested whether how the attention between electronic devices and the lecturer during the class affected students’ performance.

Almost 118 cognitive psychology students were involved in the experiment, during one term of their course. All electronic gadgets like laptops, smartphone were banned for half of the lectures and permitted for half. When devices were allowed, students were asked to record whether they had used them for non-academic purposes during the lecture.

Scientists found that using devices during lectures do not impact comprehension tests within lectures, but it did lower scores in the end-of-term exam. It impacts their results by 5% or half a grade.

This is the first-ever study that reveals the effect of divided attention in the classroom.

The study’s lead author, Professor Arnold Glass, added: “These findings should alert the many dedicated students and instructors that dividing attention is having an insidious effect that is impairing their exam performance and final grade.

“To help manage the use of devices in the classroom, teachers should explain to students the damaging effect of distractions on retention – not only for themselves but for the whole class.”

The study is published in the journal Educational Psychology.