Dealing with Digital Distractions in the Classroom

The pattern of behaviour resulting from the ubiquitous access to technology at our school is the perceived level of student distraction. Overtime we hope that students develop coping mechanisms to deal with digital distractions and the risks of multitasking. The long term impact of not dealing with this, is that student develop bad habits that linger throughout their professional careers. Focusing on single tasking and deep authentic learning is a key lifeskill that we hope that students at UWCSEA develop.

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Debunking the concept of Multitasking

The concept of multitasking describes the idea of someone flicking their attention between two separate tasks. When the students are working on laptops, the temptation to switch to a different task is just a quick swipe of the trackpad away. Because it become so easy to work on multiple desktops or between numerous tabs in a browser multitasking has become an unproductive habit of many students.

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We know from research that every switch between tasks leads to a decline in performance. If the switch is from one simple task, directly into a second simple functional task there maybe no impediment. When we are trying to immerse ourselves into deeper conceptual and abstract thinking, multitasking is a severe impediment to our collective efforts. It is a misconception that we can multitask and successfully juggle two complex tasks.

How does this affect learning?

There are lots of ideas about how lessons should be made shorter and learning split into bit size chunks for information for students to digest. The counter-argument to this is making lessons a place of socialisation around learning; and a “no-hands up” environment where every student is accountable as suggested by Dylan Wiliams. Further to this notion, we want student to experience the flow involved in authentic independent learning tasks.

To achieve these aims teachers need to make a concerted effort to encourage greater single tasking and constant reinforce. If student are completing a more process based lessons, or functional tasks in Maths or Science they need to how these activities occur in a the classroom.

What do we know about best practice?

Best practice is when teachers develop an environment of trust, and where every student is accountable for their learning. Whilst the temptation may exist to open Facebook during class we would hope that the student would balance this against the eventual lose of trust with the teacher and disappointment from the teachers or peers in the class.

Best practice suggests that explicit expectations and transparent consequences are the other important element. Ideally these expectations are developed by the students and used across the school. Best practice would also suggest that having a routine at the beginning of the lesson where devices are on but closed or placed away until the learning requires the internet.

A plethora of teaching approaches

Other than developing an environment of trust and clear expectations there are numerous other ideas which can hopefully encourage students to be on task for longer.

  • Seating arrangements which change from group activities to independent tasks.
  • Learning objectives which show students where the learning has come from and where it is heading.
  • Developing an environment where each student can be called apon to answer questions and contribute.
  • Use of timers such as Triptico to focus students attention into chunks of time or to break up longer task.
  • Providing opportunities for students to discuss and dissect the learning in groups or independently.
  • Intentionally providing students with opportunities to stand up and circulate
  • Ensuring that teacher circulates among the students, or sits in the groups as a participant.
  • Enforcing devices to be closed when the instructions to the task are given.
  • Asking one student to be the groups electronic scribe whilst others discuss.
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