Texting is Distracting? You don’t say!

Here’s an interesting study: Texting in class is proven to be distracting. Sending and/or receiving more than 2 texts per class has caused students at the University of Pittsburgh to lose concentration, this study shows. I suppose we sometimes do need empirical evidence to support obvious conclusions, but what I find more interesting is this article: “How to Use Cell Phones as Learning Tools.”

Last semester, in my pedagogy class, we bemoaned students’ use of cell phones for texting or just looking around at internet sites. But then we also talked about strategies to better integrate technology into the classroom. In a recent class, I used some of those strategies to get my 25 students–none of whom were fluent in ancient Latin–to use their smart phones, laptops, and/or iPads to hook up to the free wireless (so no data ‘wasted’) to translate Latin words to English. Each group got a line of poetry, and together we translated a whole Catullus poem. This seemed to re-direct the technology already at use into the classroom toward classroom purposes, plus gave group work a point, something students always complain about. (“Why are we doing group work again? I don’t understand what the point is!”) In this case, we couldn’t have the whole poem until we assembled each group’s line on the board.

The result was, of course, messy and awkward sounding, but it also was really exciting: they translated a poem without knowing the language and in doing so found its basic meaning, though the lines weren’t refined as pieces of writing. It showed them that while you can’t produce poetry or translations easily, you can find the basic meaning of a text in a foreign language–and do a better job than Google Translate–by breaking something down word by word, and by using the technology you have in your pocket. My hope is that they were so busy looking up Latin words (given that they had such a tight time limit) that they didn’t have time to text, despite the fact that they were on their phones.

It wasn’t perfect. I can’t do this every class. I don’t purport to have the solutions to everything (or anything, really). But for this one class period, this strategy really seemed to work.

So, yes, texting is distracting. But maybe as educators we need to find ways to distract our students from texting, in addition to telling them to put their cell phones away at times.


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