Digital Distractions Just Another Kind of Distraction
*Reflections from 'Digital distraction in the modern classroom' By Paul Barnwell.
Articles such as this are always a welcome reminder of issues related to classroom management, but I can't help come back to the same conclusion: young people (and often adults at faculty meetings) will find ways to distract themselves when they are not engaged, or downright bored. Certainly, we have to learn to deal with boredom and disinterest from a young age, but I can't help but feel that devices in the classroom are just another potential distraction. We used to write and pass notes around the class, or put a comic inside a textbook. You get the idea. According to a study in the article, 66-86% of college students were doing some kind of social engagement with their phones during class. Now we remember passing those notes on paper.
I appreciate comments on multi-tasking. My view comes from something I read a while ago. Multi-tasking is essentially dividing up your time, thus spending less attention on each task. When I write a song or play soccer I am completely focused on the tasks. They require it, but I'm also completely engaged. Can school work be the same? Perhaps not, as we can't expect every individual to be completely interested in every subject or activity in school. I appreciate Barnwell's frustration - do we limit screen / device time in order to maximize concentration, which suggests maximizing learning? I wonder. Perhaps we need to be very focused and vigilant while we use tools, and be cognizant of the usefulness or appropriateness of the tools we use for a task or learning outcome. Perhaps we need to be much more focused on device-based tasks, designing lessons more carefully, not to mention clearly demonstrating the value and relevance of tasks to students. Learning outcomes have to be the driving force behind the technology. Maybe we're shifting gears too quickly during a lesson. I do find that if a school has short, blocked periods there is a tendency to rush to cover the planned material and the point is often missed. This is because there is little time to absorb what's happening before the bell suddenly rings.
Getting back to the smartphone part of the discussion, one concern in my school is that, being in an earthquake-prone country, our students need to have their phones close by in the event of an earthquake. (as we witnessed in 2011 in Japan - phone lines were down, but social networking sites proved invaluable to reach loved ones and confirm safety) Smartphones are certainly a great tool for managing learning. (using calendars for scheduling and reminders for instance, not to mention Google Drive's smartphone apps such as Google Classroom) Don't forget the photo/video features and the plethora of quiz and other kinds of learning apps. Quizlet has activities for the student trying to squeeze in a little review on the bus or train. Regardless, phones are here to stay in the hands of our school's students, and most likely in the classrooms.
Like Barnwell, I'm sure to have technology-free lessons. Or will I? Since we use iPads and laptop devices, and Google as platforms (and I'll mention that some schools use Edmodo and Moodle), these tools are used effectively when used to facilitate learning rather than drive "content". Educators need to monitor the use of devices in class as they would have paper passing. Not as easy perhaps, but it's a necessary part of a 21st century teacher's skill set.
*reposted from a previous blog post, but updated on date of post.
Paul Barnwell. "Digital distraction in the modern classroom | SmartBrief." Smartbrief.com. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.
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