Checking and rechecking social media sites has become a “compulsion” and a “habit” for many students, Carroll said, and while she’s aware of how often she glances at her smartphone or laptop, attempts to break the habit have, so far, been for naught.
“I could go 10 minutes without checking it, if I tried. I’ve occasionally shut my phone off to try and wean myself off of the constant connection,” she said. “I’m always right back on.”
Perusing social media sites and texting back and forth with friends for even a few minutes has become ingrained in how students – and non-students – work through projects, study, and work, social media researchers said.
“The trend of checking devices is going to get worse for a while before it gets better,” said Julie Germany, cofounder of the Association for Social Media and Higher Education, and former director of the George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet. “For many people, connecting through text, eMail, chat, and social media has become an important interruption. I suspect we’ll become even more addicted before we see people begin to take longer breaks from their devices.”
Germany said the presence of smartphones with speedy web connections has transformed lectures, and even meetings: “People talk on the phones, write papers for other classes, and connect socially.”
“It’s not all bad, either,” she said. “Some of us Google issues, people, situations, or theories during lectures, for example, and that provides additional context and a new level of learning.
Professors should try to incorporate popular social media sites that students scour every waking hour into their course curriculum, Germany said, and students should remember that lectures and discussion sections still have a purpose in the age of digital devices.
“It’s hard to disconnect,” she said. “In some ways, educators need to adapt by being more interactive. In other ways, students need to learn to when shut down their devices, pay attention, and learn.”
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