New study finds college students expect their professors to be as entertaining as YouTube

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Researchers from the University of Waterloo surveyed of 478 undergraduate students and 36 professors on technology use during class. Most students said they mainly use tech in class to keep up with the course, while others reported using devices to do work for other classes or to go online when their attention drifted.

The students surveyed didn’t have a problem with their online use during class, rationalizing that since their education was something they paid for, they could do what they wanted with their tech during teaching time.

That is, unless a professor was sufficiently entertaining that they didn’t feel the need to dabble with their tech.

“While students felt that it was their choice to use the technology, they saw it as the instructors’ responsibility to motivate them not to use it, ” says study co-author Elea Neiterman, a School of Public Health and Health Systems professor at Waterloo University, in a release.

And of course, seeing the latest viral video on other students’ screens is distracting: nearly half (49%) of students surveyed said seeing non-course materials on their fellow students’ screens shattered their concentration.

What professors say

While professors saw that technology could be helpful for providing education, they also found it distracting: 68% didn’t like smartphone use in the classroom. However, only 32% were against laptop and tablet use in class, but presumably because they thought these tools were being used for educational purposes, not Youtube and surfing the web.

When technology was used for non-educational purposes, some professors said it blocked their ability to teach properly.

“Some students said that instructors need to be more entertaining to keep students engaged in the classroom, but this a big ask, given that we are not employed in the entertainment industry,” Neiterman explains. “There is also a question of what we are preparing our students for: If we are training them for future employment, we might need to teach them to focus even if the class is ‘boring.’”

The professors surveyed did not suggest a technology ban.

“Technology makes education accessible for students with disabilities, and many instructors use online tools such as Ted Talks and YouTube videos in class,” says Neiterman.

But maybe a little mindfulness on the part of the students would be welcome.

The study is published in the Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of the Teaching and Learning.