Driven to Distraction: How to Help Wired Students Learn to Focus

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eSchool News has an interesting article on a recent Pew Internet and American LIfe Project report based on a survey of 2,462 middle and high school Advanced Placement and national writing project teachers.  The teachers by “[o]verwhelming majorities agree with the assertions that today’s digital technologies are creating an easily distracted generation with short attention spans, and today’s students are too ‘plugged in’ and need more time away from their digital technologies.”

There is a lot of information about observed student behavior here but a couple of things really stand out.  First, the reports says:

The results were startling, considering that the students knew we were watching them and most likely assumed we were observing how well they were able to study. First, these students were only able to stay on task for an average of three to five minutes before losing their focus. Universally, their distractions came from technology, including: (1) having more devices available in their studying environment such as iPods, laptops, and smart phones; (2) texting; and (3) accessing Facebook.

The research showed, as might be expected, that those who stayed focused longer and had well-developed study habits were better students.  The researchers, however, were stunned by one result in particular:

If the students checked Facebook just once during the 15-minute study period, they had a lower grade-point average. It didn’t matter how many times they looked at Facebook; once was enough. Not only did social media negatively impact their temporary focus and attention, but it ultimately impacted their entire school performance.

The full post is here.

If you would like to share this with your students, a version for students is available on the TIPS for Learners site.

Rick W. Burkett runs the John A. Logan College Teaching and Learning Center, teaches history, and heads an educational nonprofit. He publishes blogs on a wide variety of topics, including history, teaching and learning, student success, and teaching online.
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