Truth About Tech Use & Focus

The decreasing level of attention span in our…what was I saying?

Technology is providing amazing and entertaining new ways of learning and doing that were not available years ago. Students have access to countless sources of information, and knowledge. They also spend countless hours viewing a multitude of sites designed distract, entertain and engage their attention, often in the classroom, while they should be paying attention to the lesson. With policies in school boards that encourage students to bring their own devices (BYOD) to school, is it any wonder that teachers struggle with keeping the minds of their students on task?

Even in the “real world” adults in the worlds of business and industry easily fall prey to the countless distractions available through social networking, emails, twitter feeds, and even checking the stock market every 5 minutes.

It seems apparent that our society is changing at its core. As technology is becoming more invasive in our everyday lives, we can see the results can be disastrous at times. In one example, cities and counties around Canada are adopting laws that are geared a cutting down on distracted driving, as people are being killed or are sustaining life-altering injuries because they cannot put their cell phone down.

What is the story behind this fight for our attention? What can we do about it?

What is technology doing to our brain?

Though research in this area is taking place, it is still early in its development. In the field of neuroscience, professionals like Dr. Gary Small are studying the effects of technology on the brain. In an article, Dr.Small (2008) states that our brains are developing and learning to master the ability to process and respond to multiple digital stimuli which in turn provide instant gratification. These changes do lead to shorter attention spans and a lack of interest in other activities that provide a delayed reward like reading or even watching a longer television program or movie.

This information coincides with other research conducted by specialists such as Dr. Rich who also believe that the brains of our young people are being habituated to distraction and away from focus.

How can we help ourselves? How do we, as educators, cope with this in the classroom?

What can we do?

In some articles, researchers like Dr. Taylor (2012, December 4) suggest that it may not be a case of technology being all bad, but about which technology children use and in its frequency of use.  Others such as della Cava (2010, August 4) also take a very common sense approach in suggesting that we need to monitor ourselves and teach our students and children to set limits on use and take breaks.

The reality is that developments in technology are going to keep coming. We need not take the position as many did in the 1970s and 1980s thinking that television would destroy the brains of our youth. It did not, and technology, if used properly with self-discipline will not.

Since we have such vast tools at our disposal, I encourage educators to rise to the occasion. Put a few past teaching practices aside. Take interest in a new digital tool or two this month. Find a way to connect with your students at their level. Personally, in trying to incorporate more technology, I am seeing greater engagement and enjoyment in my students.

Help Yourself

If it is you who is struggling with finding a good balance with technology, there are a variety of online tools and resources available to you to help with distraction.  A few tools to get your started are listed below. Hang in there!

1.Focus (Mac)

2.Focusbooster (Mac/PC)

3.Freedomto (Mac/PC)

4.Dejal:Time Out (Mac)

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