Some colleges address the tension between social media, productivity, and meaningful in-person interaction by requiring students to give up cell phones in the classroom or by assigning 24-hour media fasts. But a small university in Wyoming is raising the bar even higher by requiring its students to forgo their cell phones for the entire school year.
Students who enroll at Wyoming Catholic College, in Lander, Wyo., hand over their cell phones to campus leaders, who lock them in a box that’s accessible only during an emergency or travel. The school also bans television, and while students can access the internet in small amounts for research, emails, or Skype calls to parents, the school blocks Facebook and Twitter from the campus-wide network.
This has been the school’s modus operandi since its beginning in 2007, and student reaction has been mostly positive. “It’s a release, really, not having a cell phone,” Erin Milligan, 20, told Yahoo News. “When you are no longer captivated by technology, you find your true and real self.”
Dean of Students Jonathan Tonkowich explained to Yahoo that the goal of the ban is to foster more in-person interaction: “I’m worried about that direction in our society, where people you aren’t with are more important than the people you are with.” He added that the ban isn’t designed to snub technology. The school creates a “vacation” from the virtual world so students can focus on real friendship, virtue, and study, he said.
When it comes to study, research shows that social media is one of the top forms of productivity-killing distraction, and that students with less technology at their fingertips perform better.
For example, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University ran an experiment on two groups of students. They gave each group an exam to complete, then interrupted one group with a text message and left the other group undisturbed. The interrupted group answered 20 percent fewer questions correctly than students in the control group.
During a similar experiment at the University of California, in which more than 200 students had 15 minutes to complete a task, researchers found that students couldn’t go longer than 2 minutes before they checked their cell phones. At the end of the task, researchers concluded students only spent 65 percent of those 15 minutes working.
Many students don’t see a problem using social media in class as long as they get good grades. They consider it multi-tasking. “But evidence … suggests that when students multitask while doing schoolwork, their learning is far spottier and shallower than if the work had their full attention,” writes brain expert Annie Murphy-Paul. “They understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new contexts.”
As a solution, Murphy-Paul suggests psychologist Larry Rosen’s “tech breaks,” as a way to build self-discipline. Students should focus for 15 minutes on a task, then allow themselves to check their phones and social media. The goal, Rosen said, is to be able to increase the amount of time devoted to work without giving in to the device-checking impulse.