The Corner


Our Distracted College Students

College students have changed for the worse. Not just their increasing intolerance for points of view they don’t like, but also in the classroom. They have become increasingly distracted and disengaged, says Professor Jason Fertig on this week’s Martin Center Clarion Call.

Fertig writes,

I noticed less engagement from my students around 2012. As smartphones became more powerful, more students began showing up to class with them (and educational technology products that worked with mobile technology soon followed). At the moment, I see very few students who do not own a smartphone. Generation Z is here. Many of them have likely never heard a dial tone. Furthermore, now that they can connect to the world with their devices, fewer of them talk to each other before class. I now enter a class to a quiet environment of faces on screens, tapping and swiping. Once class begins, students are likely fighting the urge to be on their phones.

Could we even say that students are addicted to their phones? Fertig suggests that many seem to be, writing, “Through a few writing assignments in my classes, I’ve seen students admit to not wanting to be online as much as they are, but they get hooked because the draw is so powerful. As I’ve overheard a few times, the word ‘user’ is quite appropriate for technology addicts.”

Academic standards were on the way down before the iPhone came along and with increasingly distracted students, they will no doubt continue to decline.

At least some students are still willing to do the deep reading and thinking that college used to demand. Fertig finds that a few of his students want to do serious work. Many others, however, would have to have “their brains rewired” first. Professor Fertig intends to keep challenging his students, but other professors will no doubt adjust downward to keep their students happy.


George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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