College students limit technology use when exams loom

Students use libraries as a reprieve from technological distractions.

Students use their campus library to inoculate themselves from the onslaught of electronic communication that permeates their social and academic lives, especially when tests are just weeks away, University of Washington (UW) researchers say.

More than 500 college students on 11 campuses last spring said retreating to the library helps limit technological distractions when they need to prepare for critical exams, midterms, and finals, with some students using social media sites as a reward for studiousness, according to the UW research, published Oct. 12.

Even when college students need the web for study purposes, six in 10 said they only had one or two websites open at once.

The UW researchers charged that college students, when facing academic “crunch time” as course grades hang in the balance, pull back on their otherwise constant use of laptops, smart phones, and computer tablets—all potential “endless source[s] of distraction,” according to the study.

Alison Head, a research scientist at UW’s Information School and co-director of the study, said the findings “belie conventional wisdom about the multitasking generation—always online, always using a variety of IT devices to communicate, game, and do their homework.”

She added: “Our findings suggest students may be applying self-styled strategies for dialing down technology when the pressure is most on them.”

Students’ concerted efforts to focus on class readings, notes, and other study materials didn’t mean popular time-killing sites were completely eliminated from their library study sessions.