Today’s students have never known what school was like before the internet or the introduction of wireless devices. They have been raised purely in a digital age where information is accessible at their fingertips. Education has adapted to incorporate every possible technological advancement and device, and now, we stand on the precipice of AI in the classroom. While this ever-evolving technology has transformed how teachers instruct, it also delivers new challenges to teaching students with stunted attention spans.
Multitasking is a myth.
When humans divide their attention between multiple tasks, they believe they are performing those tasks simultaneously, but instead, they are actually task-switching. Try reading a book while watching television or listening to music with lyrics, and typically, you’ll end up re-reading pages, confused from missing essential parts. The human brain is designed to focus on a single task, so doing too many things simultaneously reduces awareness and work quality. Research shows that multitasking negatively impacts focus, comprehension, and retention of information. The advent of devices with a multitude of distracting apps makes this nearly impossible. Parents and teachers learned this hard lesson during the Pandemic when we asked children to use the same devices for online school they use to play Minecraft and Fortnite.
Instant gratification has destroyed our patience.
Any adult old enough to remember dial-up internet marvels at the speed of fiber and cable internet lines. Fast internet makes our lives instant, so if a page takes more than a second to load or our streaming service has a buffer hiccup, we’re ready to lose our minds. But, this expectation of instant gratification has also bled over to everyday activities. Suddenly, the coffee pot feels like it’s taking forever. We’ve even invented the acronym TL;DR that casually pokes fun at our inability to sustain enough focus to read, even when we search to answer virtually any nagging question or learn how to do almost anything we want, which took us a nanosecond to find with the push of a button. It’s no wonder that asking students to view reading an entire book or writing multi-page research papers seems like a Herculean feat.
Texting has ruined our spelling and grammar.
Speaking of acronyms, we use them all the time. The average person receives five text messages for every single phone call. And, when we respond, most of us barely write complete sentences, let alone words, finding those who still do long-winded and odd. In addition, our devices often automatically correct misspelled words (sometimes with hilarious or embarrassing results), making spelling irrelevant to most people when the device does it for them. Our informal and casual communication style means that students misunderstand the necessary tone of voice for academic and formal writing, not realizing there is a time and need for casual versus formal writing. To them, reading formal academic writing is tedious and overly complex, making them prone to zone out or avoid reading altogether.
The upside of technology for learning
Technology isn’t all bad. Without it, information access would be limited, and collaboration would be severely hindered. Technology facilitates communication allowing people to work together on projects, share ideas, and provide feedback on each other’s work. In the classroom, technology makes differentiated learning and accommodations possible. Text readers help students with dyslexia, and cochlear implants allow deaf students to hear. A plethora of adaptive learning platforms and digital tools help students identify and close the gaps in their learning. Regardless of ability, skill and standardized testing are almost exclusively online these days. Technology has forever changed how we educate, but the key to harnessing its power is creating a balance between dependence on technology and sustaining skills that reinforce focus.
Tips for balancing technology and focus:
As Socrates once said, “Everything in moderation.” Relying on technology too much will make us dependent upon that technology and diminish our concentration and skills. Still, without it, we lose the convenience and adaptability we’ve become accustomed to. Technology isn’t the enemy, but without boundaries on its use, we can lose sight of the fact that there can be too much of a good thing.
In the LTWN’s last blog post, we discussed metacognition (also known as metacognitive skills), more commonly defined as “thinking about thinking.” Metacognition is the practice of self-reflection on one’s learning, most notably making connections to prior knowledge, identifying strategies, and applying skills to successfully and effectively complete tasks. It requires deep, complex thinking and application of methods, sometimes through trial and error, until students identify the best methods for their learning style or task.
In a time when standardized tests direct curriculums, everything is rushed and teachers do the heavy lifting for students. Information is spoon fed at mach speed to be memorized and regurgitated on one exam or another, either in the classroom or school-wide. But this isn’t learning, which explains why reading, writing, and math scores are at historic lows.
Thanks to the availability of devices, typing has become a necessary skill for academic success. But good old fashioned handwriting is still an incredibly important skill for students to master. Research indicates that students with good handwriting perform better in math and reading, and writing by hand improves cognitive performance more than typing.