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Friday, March 01, 2024

That BuzzFeed listicle you just read in class may not be helping your grades.

A recent study has found a correlation between a student’s grades and the frequency in which they access nonacademic material online during class.

The study, conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, questioned 196 students in a lecture course regarding such use of their cellphones and laptops.

The researchers found that regardless of intellectual ability, gauged using ACT scores, the students’ grades decreased as the frequency and duration of Internet surfing increased.

Ali Schmitz, a 20-year-old UF journalism junior, said she needs to switch between several different activities during lecture to stay present, including using her phone, listening and taking notes.

When Schmitz takes lecture notes on her laptop, she usually refrains from perusing the Internet. However, if the professor mentions something in passing that sparks her curiosity, she often starts researching the matter. 

Alyssa Skryd, a 17-year-old UF health science freshman, said she usually has no problem staying focused in class.

With the rate at which professors speak and run through material, Skryd said, using a laptop to take notes is the best way for her to capture the material.   

To help struggling students stay focused, some professors give students the PowerPoint slides in advance.

“If a student has to keep up with the rat-a-tat-tat of the professor,” said Norman Lewis, associate professor in the department of journalism, “then there needs to be a better way of presenting the material.”

Expecting students to learn while they furiously attempt to capture in writing the spoken word and the content of slides, he said, benefits neither the student nor the professor.   

Whether we can multitask has nothing to do with how smart we are and more to do with how our brains are wired, Lewis said. 

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“Our brains are wired to focus on one thing at a time,” he added.

Taylor Stein, professor and graduate coordinator for the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at UF, said he tends to witness more students on cellphones, most likely texting, than on laptops in the lecture courses he teaches.

When students are looking at their laps and smiling, he said, it’s obvious they aren’t paying attention.

Stein and other members of the department have discussed restricting the use of laptops in class, in the hopes of eliminating Internet surfing, he said.

However, asking students to not use laptops would eliminate a significant way in which students contribute to the class, he added. Students often contribute information to the classroom that they research during a lecture. 

“Most professors are not taught how to teach,” he said. “We try to do our best . . . Texting and surfing is rude to the professor.”

[A version of this story ran on page 11 on 7/29/2014 under the headline "Senate seat unanimously appointed"]

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