Melissa Huey


News Byte: Studying the Impact of Smartphones in the Classroom

December 7, 2022

A new study by Melissa Huey, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioral sciences, finds that smartphones negatively impact college students’ classroom experience.

The findings, published in the journal Innovative Higher Education, show that students’ smartphone use in the classroom adversely affects their course comprehension and psychological state during lectures.

Since the unveiling of the iPhone in 2007, the impact of smartphones in the classroom has been a heated debate among educators. While some contend that, when used properly, smartphones allow students to access information, assignments, and e-mails related to school almost instantly, others see them as a distraction.

Huey and her study co-author, California State University researcher David Giguere, Ph.D., found that, in addition to distracting from lectures, smartphones can increase students’ anxiety levels during class. As the writers note, this is often due to two key reasons: the constant barrage of notifications and the fear of missing out (FOMO) upon seeing what their friends are doing while they attend class.

The research was conducted across four undergraduate behavioral sciences courses, in which half of the students were members of an experimental group that was required to hand in their smartphones at the start of class and a control group who were not restricted and retained their phones. At the beginning of March 2020—after six weeks of in-person participation in the course—all students completed a self-report survey that measured their course comprehension, mindfulness, and anxiety.

The results found that students who physically removed their smartphones had significantly higher levels of comprehension and mindfulness. In addition, they always had significantly lower levels of anxiety.

Huey, who previously shared these findings in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Teaching newsletter, was not surprised by the outcomes.

“Within my classroom, I find that the smartphone is often a distraction for students, taking away from the classroom experience and retention of information,” she told The Chronicle. “Students are inundated with technology all day, every day, so let’s make the classroom experience a place to retain new information, exchange ideas, and most importantly, learn at the moment.”