"...There is a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers being released on Thursday.
The researchers note that their findings represent the subjective views of teachers and should not be seen as definitive proof that widespread use of computers, phones and video games affects students’ capability to focus.
Even so, the researchers who performed the studies, as well as scholars who study technology’s impact on behavior and the brain, say the studies are significant because of the vantage points of teachers, who spend hours a day observing students...."This article was nested in another article asking for students to comment on whether they were distracted by technology.
This dialogue reminds me of a scene from The Social Network, where Mark Zuckerberg is asked by a lawyer whether or not the lawyer "has the attention" of the Facebook mogul:
I don't find this question of whether people are more distracted by technology to be very difficult. THEY ARE MORE DISTRACTED. But more specifically, we are all more likely to be distracted by things that are changing, dynamic, or more interesting and engaging than what we are currently doing.
At the most basic level, as a former PE teacher, when I was addressing my class in the gym to show them a new skill, I made sure that I stood against a solid wall and the class faced me while I was speaking. This was instead of them sitting against the wall and looking right past me at the other PE classes that were in the weight room or on the mezzanine. It is natural to be distracted!
We need to stop judging 'young people' and their being distracted, having short attention spans, or whatever other denigrating phraseology we can come up with about them being less engaged in classrooms across North America.
Why? I am an educator, and I love to learn. Like most of us, I read hundreds of articles and blogs every month, go to dozens of PD sessions, and gaggles of meetings and presentations--an education geek to say the least. However, you do not have my (nor many of my colleagues, I would guess) full attention at a meeting or presentation if:
- you are minimally prepared (and we can tell)
- you are reading from a Powerpoint
- you are giving me information that I could have read in an email or a memo
- you are lecturing for more than 3-5 minutes at a time
- you are not maximizing the number of interactions that I can have in the room, either with you, my peers, the material that we are working with
So my question is, why would we EXPECT the full attention of our students? To that end, as a Principal, if I have the most boring and least engaging staff meeting prepared for my teachers (and we are working hard NOT to do this), why would I expect the full attention of my staff? And it doesn't matter about technology. Before, it was doodling, passing notes, daydreaming. Now we (and by 'we', I include adults and students) just have a different distractor.
But regardless of my great smartphone, if you
- are over-prepared (and we can tell)
- have a Powerpoint with pictures and videos and interesting dialogue
- are giving me information that I need to have
- are lecturing for more than 3-5 minutes at a time but have different bits of multimedia (sights, sounds, pictures, things to touch and manipulate) that stimulate a number of my senses
- you are maximizing the number of interactions that I can have in the room, either with you, my peers, or the material that we are working with through things such as literacy strategies like Bank On It, Socratic Circles, GOSSIP, and others
Collectively, we have an obligation to engage those that we are teaching or working with. To simply blame technology for students being 'more distracted' is both limp and counterproductive. And by adopting this mindset, we will never succeed in getting the 'full attention' of anyone.