Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.
With the increase in digital distractions, interest in how we pay attention has grown. Although researchers continue to delineate definitions, most agree with the early psychologist, William James:
Everyone knows what attention is. It is taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.
Attention is really selective attention. We consciously or automatically choose which things to ignore and which to focus on. You are more likely to pay attention to something that affects you, interests you, or has deep meaning.
What we pay attention to is contextual and subjective. At a play, we think it’s important to focus on what’s happening on the stage without distraction. If an 8-year-old points out that there’s a man behaving oddly in the next row, he will probably get shushed. But these days, if he makes the same observation as his mother rushes him to catch a train or plane, Mom will probably pay attention and report it to security personnel.
Attention is the gateway to learning, to remembering and processing information. Instructors competing for student attention isn’t new. Remember when we thought all students were taking notes, but many were doodling, or writing love letters, or passing notes to other students? Remember when daydreaming was a common class distraction?
Cell phones may just be a more efficient way of channeling wandering attention. Researchers have shown that students texting/posting on their cell phones while watching a video lecture tested more than a grade level below their phoneless counterparts. They suggested that instructors discuss cell phone use policies with their students. That’s a start, but it doesn’t get to contextual factors that may contribute to cell phone distractions.
If, as the Pew Research Center reports, 93% of 18-29 year old smartphone owners use their phones to avoid being bored, maybe we should consider that having students listen to long lectures is not the best way to hold their attention. Even I’ve been known to check my cell phone during the most inspirational TED Talk.
Distraction can work in the opposite way as well. A student who tunes out biology to check Instagram, may also avoid the boredom of waiting on line at Chipotle by accessing their course online. And, with Acrobatiq, the professor standing behind them can evaluate how their students’ progress.
While helping students think about how and when they use cell phones, educators need to expand opportunities for students to accomplish a wide variety of goals from communication to graduation with mobile devices. Formats such as blended or hybrid classes using digital learning platforms can lessen student distraction. Some instructors are already incorporating education apps into class time as part of the curriculum.
Mobile device programs will not replace all forms of teaching. They are meant as an active way to promote student learning by using the technology around us.