Put Your Phone Down and Pay Attention (Unless Your Phone is What You’re Using to Read This)

Technology can be distracting – But there’s an app for that.

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Technology is often viewed as a meaningful tool across all classroom settings, including K-12 classrooms and higher education. Even society values technology as an important tool that’s ingrained in a 21st-century world. It only takes a few minutes to drive down the road and see many people walking while staring mindlessly at their phone. The benefits of technology are numerous and have made tasks more efficient, a prime example being the use of emails instead of mailing letters. Do the benefits of technology to keep everyone connected in instant time (e.g., using social media tools such as Facebook, texting, etc.) affect the quality of work output? Technology can sometimes be a distraction when not used for an appropriate reason or at an appropriate time.

Technology as a Distraction

Different studies have looked at technology as a distraction. Dr. Rosen, a professor at California State University, surveyed students to find out how often they use technology while studying. A majority of students responded that they are often switching between studying and using technology to check social media. Many students had a hard time focusing after the first three minutes of studying. Having access to technology at our fingertips can make studying a burdensome chore. We can easily get distracted. As I type this right now, I’m also distracted by different websites and social media tools that I use! In university, I would often be on my social media tools or be working on other projects while in lectures. According to another study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln which involved surveying 777 students across five different States in the United States, university students checked their phone on average 11 times a day while in class!

Technology and the Brain

One particular example of the negative impact of technology comes to mind as it’s becoming a frequent issue in society. Using technology while driving has become a prevalent problem, so much so that it is widely being recognized as more dangerous than drinking and driving. An article published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found links between distractions and a decrease of activity in the brain area responsible for visual attention and alertness. The distraction of technology can have a negative (and potentially fatal) impact on driving effectively.

Put the Technology Down

When focusing on a task, give it all of your focus. There have been several studies (Ryenol Junco & Berkan Centre for Internet & Safety) that found a negative correlation between use of social media in class/while completing homework and a college students’ GPA. Schedule breaks when studying or completing a task, giving yourself 15 minutes of focused study or work time and a 5-minute technology break. In classrooms, turn off your phones and computers and focus on the subject matter that you’re trying to learn. Being able to turn off your device while in class may help you achieve the goals you set yourself. If putting down your technology isn’t an option for you, web apps or plug-in’s exist that will help you limit the amount of time on distractions. For example, you could use StayFocusd which can limit your amount of break time that you spend on certain websites by blocking them for you after your break duration is over.

Resources

References

Howard, M. (2015). Distracted by technology: focusing attention on homework. Beyond Booksmart.

Richtel, M. (2010, November 21). Growing up digital, wired for distraction. The New York Times

Rosen, L. (2012, April 09). Attention alert: a study on distraction reveals some surprises. Psychology Today

Schweizer, T.A., Kan, K., Hung, Y., Tam, F., Nagile, G., & Graham, S.J. (2013, February 28). Brain activity during driving with distraction: an immersive fMRI study. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

University Harold. (2013, October 26). Students check their phones 11 times per class, survey

Author: Andrew Jaglall

Andrew Jaglall is a teacher with the Durham District School Board. As a technology enthusiast, he is often trying new technology tools in his classroom. Andrew has presented at the DDSB’s technology conference (#CONNECT), as well as DDSB’s Summer Learning Institutes, instructing on how to incorporate technology into a comprehensive literacy and numeracy program. Andrew has taught in the elementary and secondary panels and is a technology leader for his school.

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