From Smart Phones to Smart Students
Distraction versus learning with mobile devices in the classroom and student success
We examine the effect of allowing smartphones into the classroom on student performance. We collaborated with a school in China and randomly allocated students taking Chinese verbal into three experimental conditions during one lecture: smartphone banned; smartphone allowed at will; smartphone allowed at will and used to assist instruction. We measure performance gain by the difference in scores in tests taken at the beginning and at the end of the lecture.
Allowing smartphones into the classroom at will reduced the performance gain by 39% of a standard deviation compared to when they were banned from the classroom. However, allowing the devices into the classroom at will and using them to actively assist instruction increased the performance gain by 49% of a standard deviation. These results are driven by students with already good grades and by students in IT majors.
We use video feeds of the lectures to code the time students spent learning and distracted, both on and off the smartphone. Students spend a similar amount of time distracted across all experimental conditions and thus the relative time that students allocate to distraction and learning during lecture does not predict performance. Instead, the relative time spent distracted and learning on the smartphone is what matters. The increase in the performance gain when smartphones are used to assist instruction comes from students spending a larger percentage of the time learning during the lecture learning on the smartphone. Implications for teachers and schools to cautiously allow smartphones in the classroom are discussed.
Pedro Ferreira is an associate professor at the Heinz College and at the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. His research focuses on how people use technology to consume experience goods and influence others to do so. He applies robust empirical identification methods to analyze large datasets obtained from organic in-vivo large-scale network-centric randomized field experiments.
Pedro is interested in the impact of information and communication technologies on education and in peer influence and consumption in entertainment. More recently, he has been looking at the effects of video creation and consumption on educational outcomes, using machine learning and randomized experiments to identify video features that improve student learning. In 2018, Pedro was awarded the INFORMS Information Systems Society Sandy Slaughter Early Career Award for outstanding intellectual contributions to the information systems discipline.