A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project report surveyed 2,462 middle school and high school advanced placement and national writing project teachers and concluded that: “Overwhelming 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.”
Indeed, the McClatchy Tribune Information Services story that ran in our sister paper, the Winnipeg Free Press, went on to say that two-thirds of the respondents agree with the notion that today’s digital technologies do more to distract students than help them academically.
Recently, a research team observed 263 middle school, high school and university students studying for a mere 15 minutes in their homes. The researchers were interested in whether students could maintain focus and, if not, what might be distracting them. Every minute, it was noted exactly what they were doing, whether they were studying, if they were texting or listening to music or watching television in the background, and if they had a computer screen in front of them and what websites were being visited.
The results were startling, the McClatchy Tribune piece reported, considering the students knew they were being watched and most likely assumed were being observed on 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 smartphones; (2) texting; and (3) accessing Facebook.
Other researchers have found similar attention spans among computer programmers and medical students, and in those studies technology provided the major sources of distraction.
So, said the researchers, what was going on with these students? It often comes down to something so banal as, “I wonder if anyone commented on my Facebook post” or “I wonder if my friend responded to the text message I sent five minutes ago” or even “I wonder what interesting new YouTube videos my friends have liked.” This does not bode well for our future generations.
But as technology is not going to disappear from our world, “tech breaks” can be used to train the brain to focus without the worry and anxiety about what we might be missing in our virtual social world, the researchers concluded.
And we agree. We also suggest a great tech break is your daily newspaper.