Educators say technology has changed the way students learn and can take a toll on achievement, raising the importance of maintaining student engagement in the classroom as well as teaching young people how and when to use devices. Important research compiled on the effects of students multitasking while learning shows that they are losing depth of learning, getting mentally fatigued, and are weakening their ability to transfer what they have learned to other subjects and situations.
Educators as well as students have noticed how schoolwork suffers when attention is split between homework and a buzzing smartphone. Many students, like Alex Sifuentes, who admit to multitasking while studying, know the consequences well. “When I was grounded for a couple of months and didn’t have my phone, I got done extra early with homework,” Sifuentes wrote in response to Annie Murphy Paul’s article, “How Does Multitasking Change the Way Kids Learn?”
Parents also see a big difference in their kids’ studying habits. Jenifer Gossman reported that her 17-year-old daughter asked her brother to hide her phone so she could study for several important exams. After hours of studying, Gossman’s daughter reappeared, amazed at how productive she’d been without her phone by her side.
But for many, the solution isn’t simply to do away with the gadgets — mostly because they’re the same tools that actually help do the work, and it can be confusing for young adults to distinguish the difference between work and everything else.
“We have a new problem forthcoming and that is our devices that once were just an entertainment tool are also becoming our educational and work tools,” wrote commenter Des. “And with this all combined into one, it’s hard to put one away without the other being easy to access. With these things being integrated, we also start to lose sight of what is actually work and what is entertainment.”
While some teachers want to remove all digital distractions from the classroom, others say Generation M’s biggest challenges — like giving schoolwork undivided attention — require learning a new set of behaviors that need to be taught and modeled. Besides, tasks like online research, communicating with teachers and other students, and sharing ideas and divvying up work online are mandatory parts of doing school work. So the question for educators is: what to do about it?
WHEN DOES IT WORK?
At the totally wired, textbook-free New Tech Institute in Evansville, Indiana, high school students are online for all their assignments, working on Dell laptops in 90-minute subject blocks. Principal Michael Allen admits that keeping students simultaneously connected and focused for that length of time has been a big challenge. “It is very hard to manage teenagers with technology for 90 minutes of academic purpose,” he said.
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