Tag Archives: college students

College Students Addicted to Cell Phones

shutterstock_182518145bAny college teacher knows that students are attached to their cell phones. A new study measures just how attached they are.

“The Invisible Addiction: Cell Phone Activities and Addiction Among Male and Female College Students,” published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, found that college women spend an average of ten hours daily on their cell phones; college men spend nearly eight. Students’ attachments to their phones was so great, in fact, that both male and female students admitted to feeling “agitated” when their devices were not within sight.

Technical addictions have been explained as a type of behavioral addiction—a compulsion to continue a behavior in spite of its negative impact on the user’s well-being. Addiction to cell phones occurs over time, the researchers explain, usually beginning with benign use that eventually causes negative consequences and increases dependence. For example, a phone originally purchased primarily for safety reasons becomes used entirely to send text messages and check social media sites. The cell phone user eventually reaches a tipping point where use of the device becomes uncontrollable—being unable to stop texting while driving, for example—and causing negative consequences.

Interestingly, the ways in which students rely on their phones are somewhat counterintuitive. Traditionally addictive activities—such as gaming—were not the causes of cell phone reliance. Rather, students spent the greatest majority of time texting (94.6 minutes daily), followed by e-mailing (48.5 minutes), checking Facebook (38.6 minutes), surfing the Internet (34.4 minutes), and listening to their iPods (26.9 minutes).

The study’s authors surmised that female students spent more time on their cell phones to build relationships or have conversations by texting and e-mailing. The men, while sending the same number of e-mails, spent less time on each message, suggesting their messages were more utilitarian in nature. Men also spent time checking Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter primarily to follow sports or news or simply to kill time.

Excessive or addictive cell phone use by students carries negative implications. The devices cause students to lose focus in the classroom and in some cases provide opportunities to cheat. Compulsive cell phone use can also cause conflict in and out of the classroom, the study found. Cell phones, when used to dodge uncomfortable situations, can also lead to negative outcomes.

The study’s authors conclude by suggesting that researchers continue to look for the “tipping point” as to when cell phone use becomes cell phone addiction.


  1. The researchers call cell phone use a “paradox of technology” because it can be both freeing and enslaving. How are cell phones “freeing and enslaving”?
  1. How might excessive cell phone use create negative consequences in the workplace?
  1. Addictions are often caused when an individual wants to escape painful or negative feelings. How does cell phone addiction fit this explanation?



Failing Tests Is Good for Learning

shutterstock_148662203We’ve all heard some variation of the adage “It will get worse before it gets better.” It turns out to be true with flunking a pretest. Research at UCLA has shown that students perform better on finals when they are given comprehensive pretests on material about which they know virtually nothing on the first day of class … and predictably fail.

The merits of pretesting, a new outcrop of learning science, are linked to how we approach the acquisition of knowledge. The theory posits that if we take a pretest and do poorly but we know the final will include the same material, we look at the course differently—so differently that it can improve overall performance in the class by an average of 10 percent.

Professor Elizabeth Bjork of UCLA used her own psychology students as guinea pigs to test her theory on pretesting. Instead of overwhelming students on the first day with a comprehensive pretest of the entire quarter’s worth of materials, she gave a series of unannounced shorter tests during a few class sessions. Predictably, students performed poorly on the pretests.

However, Bjork delivered the answers to the questions during the next lecture, and this quick feedback is what seemed to lead to better learning. On the final, students scored about 10 percent higher on material they originally did poorly on in pretests but that was covered in the next lecture.

The experiment has several implications. First is that pretesting seems to prime the brain to absorb new information. This may result because students get a taste of what’s to come and that gives them hints about what to focus on as the course progresses. Second is the concept of fluency, or the false impression that we understand or have learned more than we have. Pretesting acts as a wake-up call to show students they are not as fluent as they thought.

Biology may also be at play. Retrieving information from the memory is different than cramming in information the first time. Retrieval requires a network of associations that affect how the information is re-stored. Pretesting—and guessing answers—also reshapes the brain’s networks, which may be linked to the improved performance.

So far it appears that pretesting is not a panacea; it only works in humanities and social science courses that delve into information in the same language we speak. But now, it seems, researchers have found that testing itself may be a key to studying, not the other way around. Tests don’t simply measure; they enrich and alter memory, and therefore, promote learning.



Millennials…Not as Tech Savvy as We Thought

The common notion that millennials are all “digital natives” is a myth, according to research conducted by Eszter Hargittai of Northwestern University.confused student

Hargittai studied students’ Internet use and found that not all are HTML-coding, app-building savants. In fact, some have no idea how to adjust the privacy settings on their social media accounts, which negatively affects their online identities. Hargittai points out “There is more to using digital media than turning it on.”

Her research found that students’ technological expertise is linked to their socioeconomic status and that less privileged students often lack basic knowledge, such as how the Internet functions. Students with one parent having a graduate degree had significantly higher levels of technological savvy; African American, Hispanics, and women reported having fewer Internet-related skills.

The number of years a student had been exposed to computers did not predict using the Internet in varied and informed ways. Instead, laptop ownership, access to a number of Internet locations, and amount of time spent online were the predictors of higher levels of Internet-related activities. White and Asian American males with educated parents had the greatest amount of skill and used the Web in more informed ways for more types of activities than any other group.

Because of the common myth that all college students are technologically savvy by virtue of being born in the technological age, many colleges do not address the issue. However, some schools have started courses to help students build and manage online reputations in response to the research.

Classroom Discussion Questions

  1. How might a lack of technological savvy affect a college student?
  2. What, if anything, should colleges do to ensure that students understand technology and social media and follow professional best practices?
  3. How can students (and instructors) improve their own knowledge of technology?

What are your experiences with students’ tech savvy? Please let us know.


Sources: O’Neil, M. (2014, April 21). Confronting the myth of the ‘digital native.’ Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Confronting-the-Myth-of-the/145949/?cid=wb&utm_source=wb&utm_medium=en

Hargittai, E. (2010, February). Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in internet skills and uses among members of the ‘net generation.’ Sociological Inquiry, (80)1, 92-113.