Marquette studies show disconnect regarding technology use in college classrooms

June 8, 2016

Communication professor Shuter says students, instructors are 'miles apart' despite benefits of in-class laptop, smartphone use

MILWAUKEE — Two separate studies by Dr. Robert Shuter, professor emeritus of communication studies at Marquette University, and collaborator Dr. Pauline Cheong of Arizona State University, show that most American university faculty believe that smartphones, laptops and other digital devices are distractions to attention, learning and participation, and — if permitted in the classroom — must be closely monitored.

By contrast, most university students indicate that this view is the opposite of what they believe.

The studies, published recently in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication and the journal Communication Education, found that faculty and students are at odds with respect to how they view the value and potential distractions of digital devices in the classroom, how they should be regulated, and the penalties for violating usage rules.

Shuter, who is also director of the Center for Intercultural New Media Research, pointed out that this could pose classroom management problems and that students feel staying connected digitally at all times is important not just for their learning, but also for their safety on campus.

"While the intuitive thought is that university instructors and students may differ on this, the studies show that, while mobile devices are an integral part of every aspect of our lives, they are not getting any closer in being integrated in to university classrooms," Shuter said. "In fact, students and university instructors are miles apart on every aspect of their use in class despite the potential revolutionary benefits these devices have for learning and participation."

Summary of key findings

Following is an aggregate summary of key findings from both studies:

Faculty — All digital devices in the classroom generally distract students' attention, learning and participation in class.Students — Digital devices in the classroom do not generally distract students' attention, learning and participation in class.

Faculty — Digital devices in classes are especially distracting for learning.Students — Quite positive about digital devices in class, including smartphone use, and believe they can assist learning. Students also believe that smartphones are critical for their safety on campus and should be left on at all times.

Faculty — Digital devices in class must be managed with specific rules on syllabi with penalties for rule violations.Students — Support rules for use on syllabi but, unlike instructors, do not support penalties for violations. Students prefer that instructors ignore violations, handle them lightheartedly through humor or talk to the student after class.

Faculty — Digital devices need to be closely monitored in class and responded to in a variety of strategic ways, including 1) walking around the class and calling on students who are clearly not paying attention, and 2) strategically redirecting students' attention back to the instructor from their devices through, for example, impromptu online information searches relevant to class content.Students — Since digital devices do not negatively affect their attention or their participation in class, students believe that it's unnecessary to closely monitor their classroom use of digital media.

According to Shuter, who has taught in university classrooms for more than 40 years, "Instructors and universities must modify their negative attitudes toward mobile devices in the classroom and be open to their ability to revolutionize teaching and learning."

For digital copies of the studies, a headshot of Shuter or to interview Shuter, please contact Christopher Stolarski, senior communication strategist, at