Research has shown that “Generation Z” students — those born after 1996 — have surprising preferences for face-to-face learning, even though their parents rarely see them without their smartphone in hand.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln broadcasting professor Barney McCoy has studied this age group as part of his ongoing national research on digital distractions in the classroom. As education in America makes a historic technology shift in the face of COVID-19, instructors may face some unexpected challenges and pleasant surprises with today’s college students.

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His third survey of student use of digital devices in college classrooms was published April 15 in the Journal of Media Education. His survey of more than 1,000 students in 2018 and 2019 found a decrease in the amount of time and number of times Gen Z students used smartphones and other devices for non-class purposes during the school day.

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