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The Effect of Cellphone as Distraction in Classroom Environment

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The idea that the maximization of learning takes place in areas that are free from disturbances and interruptions is already a common knowledge. As an implication, any area where learning takes place should be ensured of freedom from any form of disturbance or interruption and efforts must be done to best minimize the existence of such. However, with the rise of modern technology, and as communication tools become more in demand, disturbances and interruptions have already taken a form of something that is deemed a necessity in the modern times.

Associated Press, as reported by TranSend (2007), reports that 92% of undergraduates today owns a cellular phone. A similar report was done by Zdnet (TranSend, 2007), stating an increase in the number of College students who use cellular phones, from 33% in 2000 to 90% in 2004. This rise in the usage of cellular phones has been deemed negative and a subject of many debates because of its said impact on learning. There, is a question on the nature of cellular phones that could cause inefficient learning.

Britannica (2007) defines noise as “undesired sound that is intrinsically objectionable or that interferes with other sounds being listened to; …noise refers to those random, unpredictable, and undesirable signals, or changes in signals, that mask the desired information content.” Given this definition, it can be safe to say that cellphones produce “noise”: The sounds produced by cellphones are by nature, random and unpredictable, that is, the ringing of phones can only be controlled by the caller and not the owner of the gadget; The sounds produced by cellphones undoubtedly cause interference, particularly to the learning process that simultaneously happens while a student supposedly listens and understands a professor or a reading material.

Part of the inefficient learning that results from such interference is the diversion of a student’s attention from the learning material to the sound produced by the cellphone. Unwanted noise, it is said, could affect the students’ achievement and attention (Kyzar, 1977; Jago and Tanner, 1999).

Lange, E.B. (2005) conducted a study on the effects of attention distraction on students’ learning performance. In this study, unexpected tones were presented to the participants in exchange for irrelevant tones. The results show that tasks are impaired by the unpredictable nature of the sequence of irrelevant tones. Also, according to Lange, E.B. (2005) memory performance on spatial tasks is affected by irrelevant changes in the position of the stimuli.

The results of Lange’s study is very significant when applied to the issue on cellphones as the unpredictable and unexpected nature of the sounds produced by cellular phones could very well impair learning. In addition, research findings confirm the negative effects of unwanted noise on both the mental and emotional health, not only of the students but also of the teachers (Jago and Tanner, 1999). This implies the possible negative effect could also impair the teacher’s concentration, which could then impair his or her activity and thus, the students’ learning.

The psychological question on the brain’s capacity to comprehend more than one object at a time has been the subject of many experiments (Cartier and Harwood, n.d.). That the sound produced by the cellphone can occur simultaneously while a student is in the process of learning, puts additional workload to the student.

It is important to note that the processing of sound is always beyond the control of a person, that is, it is obligatory. Sounds is said to be organized unconsciously by the brain. To add to this, any unwarranted sound is organized in a strikingly similar way compared to the warranted information, that is, the processing of the “noise” and the processing of any certain task undergo similar mental operations causing the brain greater work load (Jones, 1999). In other words, whenever a cellular phone produces a sound, the student’s brain undergoes an unwarranted multi-tasking activity, processing both the sound from the phone and the information being received in the classroom.

According to some news reports (Multi-Tasking Adversely Affects the Brain’s Learning Systems, UCLA Scientists Report, 2006), doing many activities at a single time could affect the brain’s learning systems, resulting in less efficient learning. It is added that the retrieval of information is much more difficult because of less flexibility imposed by the distractions and the use of more brain systems. A study done by Morgan (1917) provided a similar explanation. According to the study distractions cause people to exert extra energy in order to be able to overcome the said distractions. This extra energy is necessary for the people to be able to gain more understanding of whatever subject matter that is simultaneously being presented.

Similarly, Pool, et. al.’s (2003) study on the impact of music and television on homework performance showed that performance while doing homeworks and studies are negatively affected by other tasks that are simultaneously done during the learning process.

A study was done by Super, et. al (n.d.) on the effects of distractions on test results and appears to be in contrast with the previous studies presented. Based on the study, distractions do not have a significant effect on the performances of the students. The theories presented on Jones’ (1999) study on the cognitive psychology of auditory distraction, provide an explanation. According to the study, disruption is increased when the distraction is more closely presented to the subject being learned. In Jones’ (1999) own words, “disruption is greatest when the burden on memory via rehearsal is greatest; and occurs not at the encoding stage but at some stage beyond the registration of the stimuli.” This means that the distractions take its effect on learning when it happens immediately after listening and during the stage when the learner is processing or understanding the received information.

In an examination setting, the processing and understanding of information have already been done by the learner allowing the distractions to have less effect on the performance. However, in a typical classroom or study setting when a student listens/reads and continuously process the flow of information being input by the teacher or by the material, there is also continuous burden on memory. Therefore, a simultaneous and unwarranted disruption, in this case, a sound coming from a cellular phone could very well affect the learning process that is supposedly occurring. The disruption would cause a loss in learning efficiency due to the obligatory entry of the sound into the learner’s memory by impairing the registration and encoding of the information being processed by the learner (Jones, 1999).

Despite the obvious, as well as the peer-reviewed evidences on the effects of distracting sounds on the learning processes, there is not much evidence on the particular effect of the sound coming from cellular phones in classroom settings. The possible distracting sounds produced by cellular phones in classrooms can not be directly correlated with learning because most literatures focus on the effect of “sounds” as distractions in general. All supposed negative effects of phones can only be based on indirect evidence as the theories made on studies done on auditory distraction applies to the issue. The purpose of this study, then, is to determine the effect of cellular phones in the learning processes of students in a classroom setting.

Works Cited

Cartier, F. A. and Harwood, K. A. (n.d.). Some Questions About Attention. Journal of Communication, 101-106.

Jago, E. and Tanner, K. (1999). Environmental Influence on Student Behavior and Achievement. The University of Georgia Website. Retrieved 21 Feb 2007 from http://www.coe.uga.edu/sdpl/researchabstracts/acoustical.html.

Jones, D. (1999). The cognitive psychology of auditory distraction: The 1997 BPS Broadbent lecture. British Journal of Psychology. 90, 167-187.

Kyzar, B.L. (1977). Noise pollution and schools: How much is too much? Council of Educational Facilities Planners Journal, 10-11.

Lange, E.B. (2005). Disruption of attention by irrelevant stimuli in serial recall. Journal of Memory and Language 53, 513–531.

Morgan, J.B. (1917). The Effect of Sound Distraction upon Memory. The American Journal of Psychology, 28  (2), 191-208.

Multi-Tasking Adversely Affects the Brain’s Learning Systems, UCLA Scientists Report. (2006). UCLA News. Retrieved 21 Feb 2007 from http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/page.asp?RelNum=7212.

Noise. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 22 Feb. 2007 from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9056040.

Pool, M.M., Koolstra, C.M., van der Voort, T.H.A. (2003). The Impact of Background Radio and Television on High School Students’ Homework Performance. Journal of Communication 53 (1), 74–87.

Super, D.E., Braasch, W.F., Jr., and Shay, J.B. (n.d.). The effects of distractions on test results. Journal of Educ. Psychology. 373-377.

TranSend. (2007). Statistics. TranSend, Ed. Retrieved 21 Feb. 2007 from http://www.transended.com/resources/statistics.cfm.

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