Tech Shrinking Students’ Attention Span, Teachers Believe

As the use of technology in the classroom continues to grow, many teachers have come to believe that its expanded use hampers children’s ability to learn, rather than aid it.

According to two recent surveys, instructors feel that constant gadget use by students is contributing to attention span problems and makes it harder to kids to learn how to focus on a particular task for an extended period of time — a skill that is key to learning successfully.

Although researchers say that the survey results represent teachers’ views rather than actual scientific findings, these views should be taken seriously as coming from those who front classrooms and therefore have the best vantage point to judge the technology’s impact on learning.

The timing of the studies, from two well-regarded research organizations, appears to be coincidental. One was conducted by the Pew Internet Project, a division of the Pew Research Centerthat focuses on technology-related research. The other comes from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco that advises parents on media use by children. It was conducted by Vicky Rideout, a researcher who has previously shown that media use among children and teenagers ages 8 to 18 has grown so fast that they on average spend twice as much time with screens each year as they spend in school.

Even teachers who didn’t take part in the survey echoed their colleague’s point of view. When asked to comment, many said that they are now having more difficult time keeping students focused during class than they used to before technology was so widespread.

Hope Molina-Porter, who teaches in Troy High School in Fullerton, California, described what she is forced to do to keep the attention of her students as “entertaining.” She said that she even noticed a marked decline in the work done by advanced students since digital gadgets became more popular. Her job, she said, was to do anything required to keep students learning, yet she admitted that the approaches that worked well for her when she began teaching 14 years ago had to be substantially adjusted to accommodate current students whose attention spans are markedly shorter.

The surveys also found that many teachers said technology could be a useful educational tool. In the Pew survey, which was done in conjunction with the College Board and the National Writing Project, roughly 75 percent of 2,462 teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers.

11 7, 2012
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