Students in the United States and India hold different opinions on use of smart phones and tablets in college classrooms

August 23, 2017

Marquette researcher says cultural differences show policies at U.S. colleges may need to be re-examined

MILWAUKEE — Should policies on the use of smart phones, tablets and laptops in college classrooms be examined for cultural bias?

A study by a Marquette University researcher argues that it might be time for a re-evaluation of these policies due to significant differences in opinions between students in the United States and India.

"American and Indian students have different expectations for managing classroom devices," said Dr. Robert Shuter, emeritus professor of communication studies and research professor at Arizona State University, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. "Theories on the use of digital devices in classrooms have emerged in the United States, but this study shows they may need to be re-examined through multi-cultural lenses."

Shuter, who also is director of the Center for Intercultural New Media Research, surveyed 920 college students in the two countries. He found differences in:

  • frequency of digital use;
  • preferred policies to control use in classrooms;
  • preferred strategies for instructors to handle distracting uses of digital media;
  • perceived impact of digital use in classrooms on learning, attention and student participation.

Published in 2017 in the Western Journal of Communication, the study found that Americans use their laptops/tablets for about four hours a day compared to two hours per day for Indians.

More American students believe that if a cell phone rings during class the instructor should either ignore it or address it in a light-hearted way. Significantly more Indians believe instructors should discuss any cell phone interruption with the student the moment it happens in class, and should reprimand, discipline or impose a grade penalty.

Indians prefer that a university establish digital policies for classrooms to prohibit use of devices during class unless required by the instructor. Americans want the policies discussed in class, included on the course syllabus and established by the instructor.

More Indian students than Americans are distracted by the use of cell phones in class and become annoyed if a cell phone rings or makes noises. More Indian students also believe that use of a cell phone is significantly more disruptive to learning.

Americans owned significantly more tablets and laptops, while Indians owned significantly more desktop computers.

Shuter, who has taught in university classrooms for more than 40 years, has conducted several global studies on the use of digital devices in university classrooms. Other collaborators on this study included Drs. Uttaran Dutta and Pauline Cheong from Arizona State University; Dr. Yashu Chen at California State University, San Marcos; and Jeff Shuter, a doctoral candidate at the University of Iowa.

For digital copies of the study, a headshot of Shuter or to interview Shuter, please contact Christopher Stolarski at (414) 288-6060 or at