While there has been no long-term study of the role of electronic devices in society in general, and education in particular, recent research suggests the constant use of technology can have an effect on the attention span of students. Research done by both the Pew Research Center and Common Sense Media found that teachers think constant use of digital devices makes it more difficult for students to pay attention and focus on classroom tasks. This has changed the way many instructors conduct their classes.
“I’m tap-dancing all over the place,” said Dave Mendell, a fourth-grade teacher in Wallingford, PA, in a New York Times article. “The more I stand in front of class, the easier it is to lose them.”
Larry Rosen, professor of psychology, California State University, Dominguez Hills, weighed in on the subject in a columnthat appeared in eSchool News. Rosen studied student test scores after they were told to answer text messages they might receive during a video lecture. All the students got lower grades because waiting for the text to arrive was a distraction. His research also found that students who responded to the text immediately got even lower grades than those who waited to respond.
“After the study, when asked why they did not respond immediately, they told us that they were waiting for a time when the videotape material seemed less important and not likely to be on the test,” Rosen wrote. “Those students were using their metacognitive skills to decide when was a good time to be distracted and when it was important to focus.”
Rosen went on to suggest teachers use “technology breaks” as a possible way to get students to focus. A technology break allows students to check messages between extended periods of time focused on classroom work.
“The trick is to gradually lengthen the time between tech breaks to teach students how to focus for longer periods of time without being distracted,” Rosen wrote. “I have teachers using this in classrooms, parents using it at the dinner table or a restaurant, and bosses using tech breaks during meetings with great success.”