Melissa Huey, New York Institute of Technology – The Psychological Impact of Smartphones in the College Classroom

Smartphones are everywhere, including the classroom.

Melissa Huey, assistant professor of behavioral sciences at the New York Institute of Technology, examines how it affects students.

Melissa Huey, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of behavioral sciences at New York Institute of Technology.

Huey’s research interests are twofold. The first area focuses on parenting and the impact that it has on children’s mental health. Her second area focuses on the psychological impact that technology and the smartphone have on young adults.

Both in and out of the classroom, Huey has leveraged current events, such as the January 2021 U.S. Capitol insurrection, as teachable moments on the importance of critical thinking. Following the events at the Capitol, she joined a multidisciplinary panel of New York Tech faculty and staff to discuss causes for the nation’s polarization, the role of social media in spreading misinformation, and the conflict resolution skills needed to bridge the ideological divide.

She received her M.A. from City College of New York and her Ph.D. from Florida Atlantic University.

The Psychological Impact of Smartphones in the College Classroom

Ninety-seven percent of college students today own a smartphone. Despite their prevalence, the impact of smartphones in the classroom is a widely debated subject.

While some professors contend that smartphones provide students with convenient access to information, assignments, and school emails, others see them as a huge distraction.

Smartphone alerts, text messages, and social media updates interrupt lectures. They can also trigger students’ anxiety and even FoMo—the fear of missing out—when they see what their friends are doing while they’re in class. 

My research explores the psychological impacts of smartphones in the college classroom.

My colleague and I conducted a six-week experiment to see how students’ mindfulness, anxiety, and course comprehension were affected when smartphones were removed vs. when they were physically present.

We studied four undergraduate behavioral science classes. In two classes, students handed in their smartphones at the beginning of the lecture. The other classes served as a control group, where students kept their phones and used them with no limitations.

At the end of the six weeks, students self-reported scores on course comprehension, mindfulness, and anxiety levels.

Students who handed in their smartphones reported much higher comprehension and mindfulness scores. In addition, they reported lower levels of anxiety.

However, the opposite was true for those who kept their phones. These students reported lower comprehension and mindfulness scores and higher anxiety levels.

Our findings show that educators need to make informed decisions about technology in the classroom.

Establishing simple rules that limit smartphone use in class can have a positive impact on students’ well-being and, in turn, their college success.

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