Dr. Jeff Kuznekoff has Gone Viral with His Research

Dr. Jeff Kuzneoff at his deskAn assistant professor of Communication in the Department of Integrative Studies on the Miami University Middletown campus, Dr. Jeff Kuznekoff published "Mobile Phones in the Classroom: Examining the Effects of Texting, Twitter and Message Content on Student Learning" in the journal Communication Education.

Although the results of his research weren't terribly surprising--quantifying how social media can be a distraction in the classroom--the article has spawned dozens of reports in newspapers and magazines worldwide, both trade publications, such as Inside Higher Ed and Times Higher Education, and mainstream outlets like the BBC and The Telegraph in the United Kingdom, France's Le Monde, and Portugal's Observatory. The Huffington Post picked up on it, as did the Atlanta Constitution and the Sacramento Bee.

Kuznekoff, a native of New Jersey, earned his Ph.D. at Ohio University in 2012, where his research in social media started.

"It was the last graduate class I took," he recalled. "It was in Instructional Communication, and the theme of one day's class was technology in the classroom.

"We started talking about how we could use technology to enhance student learning, but it ended up morphing into a different conversation," he said. "All the graduate students were teaching at the time and they're noticing their students are texting in class, even when they seemed engaged."

A lot of the research at the time was all survey based, but didn't really get to the heart of it, he said, the question whether tweeting and texting during class impacted learning.

So Kuznekoff proposed a study that would answer the question and the professor in that class, Scott Titsworth, joined him as one of the co-authors. Their first article related to the research showed that students who were tweeting and texting during class did not perform as well as those who did not.

A reviewer of the first article suggested that they find out if these activities could have a positive impact if the tweeting and texting were related to the content of the lecture.

They devised an experiment in which random students would watch a 12-minute lecture and take a test after. The control group was told to put their phones away while the other students were instructed to respond to text messages during the video.

"I went into it thinking that even if you were responding to messages about the class, you're still not going to do very well because you are still distracted," he said. "I was wrong."

If the text messages were related to the content, they found, there wasn't as much of a difference in their scores in comparison to the control group.

Still, "when you're in the classroom, the best policy is to put the phone away and be present and active with what's going on," he said. "We know that students are taking their mobile devices with them to class whether we like it or not, so I think it's worth exploring if we can use some of the apps available or to figure out how to use relevant messages to tap in and help student learning."

These studies in classroom texting are only one aspect of Kuznekoff's interest in how communication technology influences the way that we interact with other people. He also played, recorded and analyzed over 250 games of Halo 3 to explore how gender influenced the kind of interaction between players.

A fan of the Halo series of games, he began to casually notice a pattern of behavior among certain players whenever there was a female player in the game.

"Whenever a woman talked, it didn't matter how well she did in the game--she could have been the only reason we won the game, the MVP--people would still yell at her and call her sexual, nasty terms," he said. "I was confused by that. I wanted to see if this was random or systematic."

Again, the existing research was based on surveys and not very helpful.

"Doing an experiment and observation is a better way of getting at that," he said.

He and his female colleague each recorded a set of a dozen phrases to see how people responded, playing about 80 games each using the female voice, the male voice and a control of no talking at all, but just playing the game.

"When we ran the stats, it turned out that the female voice would average three negative comments a game and the male voice would get about one negative comment per game," he said. "The female voice also got more friend requests, more messages, and questions like 'Are you pretty?' and 'Will you be my girlfriend?' or stereotypical things like, 'Will you go make me a sandwich?'"

"It was very sexualized in nature," he said. "I'd argue that because it's anonymous, you feel like you have this license to act out."

Because his team recorded all of these games, they have a detailed record of the game culture and may soon have future articles coming from the experiment.

Recent work by Dr. Jeff Kuznekoff:

Mobile Phones in the Classroom: Examining the Effects of Texting, Twitter, and Message Content on Student Learning: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03634523.2015.1038727#abstract

The Impact of Mobile Phone Usage on Student Learning: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03634523.2013.767917

Communication in multiplayer gaming: Examining player responses to gender cues: http://nms.sagepub.com/content/15/4/541.abstract

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