It’s the week before final exams, you’re rapidly typing up revision notes, Spotify is on full blast and you’re in the zone. And then, it happens. Just one at first, but then another, and another… and another until the cacophony of vibrations emerging from your phone hits your final nerve – and you crack. Fast-forward, and you’ve safely cleared all those pesky notifications, but you’ve also inadvertently spent an additional 30 minutes mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And here, lies an issue that I wish to investigate. For my research project, I am going to assess the effects of push notifications on learning and concentration within university students aged 18-25.
Mobile device ownership is a normalcy which a majority of young people enjoy. In fact, Deloitte’s 2016 Mobile Consumer Survey suggests that 94 per cent of mobile consumers aged 18-24 have a smartphone (increasing from 91 per cent in 2015). According to Techopedia, a mobile device is a “handheld tablet or other device that is made for portability” – such as a phone, laptop, or tablet. So, my research will focus on the push notifications received by students on these types of devices. Furthermore, with a dramatic rise in mobile device ownership in Australia in recent times (as suggested by the Interactive Advertising Bureau – pictured below) the question of these device’s impact on students remains.
Learning is becoming increasingly mobile. It takes but a quick glance around UOW library to establish that almost every student is using some type of mobile device – whether it be a laptop, mobile phone, or tablet. According to Sensis, mobile devices are the preferred method of social media engagement with 97% of 18-29 year olds using their smartphones to access social media platforms (p.26) and 89% of 18-29 year olds checking social media at least once a day. If young people are accessing social media mainly through mobile devices, it can be assumed that this access is via an application; many of which utilise push notifications. So, if we have such a prevalent use of social media among young Australians, as well as a prevalent use of mobile technology in universities, and it is widely documented that mobile technology is a distraction, then there is an issue here to be explored.
An issue which was affirmed in my readings about the topic. The Impact of mobile technology on student attitudes, engagement, and learning, makes it clear that “students may also be distracted by multitasking on devices and distract fellow students by their technology use” (pp.91-92). And, furthermore, in the Effects of Classroom Cell Phone Use On Expected And Actual Learning it is stated that “the conversational aspects of using cell phones generate high risks from divided attention” (p. 323). Whilst, The Attentional Cost of Receiving a Cell Notification dictates that “mobile phones can disrupt attention performance even if one does not interact with the device.” (p. 896). However, an article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that we are still unable to determine the exact cause of the distraction that results from cellular notifications (p. 4).
Quickly, it became clear to me that there was something missing. Although, I could conclude from these readings that there was an existing issue – mobile devices are distracting – they were lacking in an assessment of how students may use push notifications to their benefit, and conversely, in exactly what ways these notifications were causing a distraction.
In conclusion, whilst there is widespread research into the use of mobile technology itself in classrooms, a lot of this data is focused on demographics outside my research group (geographically i.e. America, UK, and age-wise i.e. 14-17 not 18-25). And, although there is both qualitative and quantitative data available on the topic, not a lot of it is timely (dating pre-2015) or relevant (again being based on studies outside of Australia and not always on university students). Thus, the specific exploration of the use of push notifications and their impact on 18-25-year old Australians’ ability to concentrate within their studies is something that has not yet been extensively delved into, so there is an opportunity for me to add to existing research.
So, I will use a combination of analysing existing data and conducting my own surveys and interviews of UOW students in order to bridge the gap between quantitative and qualitative research and reach a conclusion. Through my research, I would like to consider push notification’s role in distraction and procrastination; but also in the organisation of a student’s university life. I want to determine if the sense of euphoria that often accompanies a positive notification has an impact on a student’s concentration. And, conversely, if the anticipation of a dreaded notification interferes with a student’s ability to focus. I would like to determine if the phenomenon of ‘phantom’ notifications exists, and if so, how it affects a student’s study ‘flow’. And, finally I would like to determine what notification practises students undertake when it comes to studying – do they ignore push notifications, or let them take control?
Deloitte (2016). Mobile Consumer Survey 2016. [online] Deloitte. Available at: http://landing.deloitte.com.au/rs/761-IBL-328/images/tmt-mobile-consumer-2016-final-report-101116.pdf [Accessed 18 Mar. 2018].
Froese, A, Carpenter, C, Inman, D, Schooley, J, Barnes, R, Brecht, P, & Chacon, J 2012, ‘Effects of Classroom Cell Phone Use on Expected and Actual Learning’, College Student Journal, 46, 2, pp. 323-332, ERIC, EBSCOhost, viewed 18 March 2018.
Heflin, H., Shewmaker, J. and Nguyen, J. (2017). Impact of mobile technology on student attitudes, engagement, and learning. Computers & Education, 107, pp.91-99.
Killham, E. (2016). Psychologists explain phantom notifications and ‘ringxiety’. [online] Cult of Mac. Available at: https://www.cultofmac.com/410687/psychologists-explain-why-you-think-your-phone-is-buzzing-when-it-isnt/ [Accessed 18 Mar. 2018].
Sensis (2018). Sensis Social Media Report 2017. [online] Available at: https://www.sensis.com.au/asset/PDFdirectory/Sensis_Social_Media_Report_2017-Chapter-1.pdf [Accessed 18 Mar. 2018].
Stothart, C., Mitchum, A. and Yehnert, C. (2015). The attentional cost of receiving a cell phone notification. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 41(4), pp.893-897.
Techopedia.com. (2018). What is a Mobile Device? – Definition from Techopedia. [online] Available at: https://www.techopedia.com/definition/23586/mobile-device [Accessed 18 Mar. 2018].
Torres, N. (2018). Just Hearing Your Phone Buzz Hurts Your Productivity. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2015/07/just-hearing-your-phone-buzz-hurts-your-productivity [Accessed 18 Mar. 2018].
Cover image source: http://fokus-online.be/veronique-vogeleer-hr-als-architect-van-wendbare-bedrijven-2/