Classroom Technology

Are Smartphones Hurting Kids’ Thinking Skills?

By Alyson Klein — August 19, 2020 1 min read
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Are smartphones making kids less intelligent, or at least making it tougher for them to actually master the material they are studying?

That might well be the case, according to a study conducted at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

The reason: When completing homework and other assignments, students are apt to look things up on their phones, rather than learn and internalize the answer. That works for getting a quick correct answer, but it makes it a lot harder to recall the information when test time rolls around, the researchers found.

Students who received higher homework grades, but lower exam scores—by as much as half to a full letter grade—were more likely to have Googled (or otherwise searched) their way to the homework answers rather than coming up with them themselves.

Students who look up answers tend to rapidly forget both the answer and the question itself, said Arnold Glass, the lead author and a professor of psychology at Rutgers. That means homework becomes a “meaningless ritual” rather than a learning opportunity—and the exam results show it.

And most don’t realize the problem until it’s too late, he said. “It’s not going to occur to them that they are actually hurting their exam performance.”

What’s more, the trend has become more apparent as smartphones have become more prevalent, the researchers concluded. Fourteen percent of students scored lower on exams than homework in 2008, when smartphones were just beginning to take off. That number soared to 55 percent in 2017 when the devices became ubiquitous.

The study, which was conducted by Glass and graduate student Mengxue Kang, included 2,433 Rutgers-New Brunswick students in 11 different lecture courses. Although the research was conducted in a postsecondary context, the findings are relevant for K-12, Glass said in an interview.

Image: Getty

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.