Technology reduces students’ capability to learn


Digital technology creates “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans”

According to two surveys of teachers released last week, students’ ability of paying attention in class and solving different problems is altered by the every day use of digital technologies.

Technology is changing the way of learning.

The researchers commented that the survey shows only the teachers’ subjective views, not an evidence of a corrupt effect of computers or phones on pupils’ ability to focus. However, they agree with experts on technology’s effect on behavior that this research is significant enough in regard to the amount of time teachers spend with their students.

It seems to be a coincidence that the two surveys are published at the same time – one by the Pew Internet Project, a division of the Pew Research Center, and the other by the Common Sense Media, a San Francisco noncommercial organization advising parents on media use by children. The latter was directed by Vicky Rideout who had previously revealed the fact that children between 8 and 18 averagely spend twice as much time with hi-tech gadgets as they spend in school. H. Porter complains she has to dance or sing to capture students’ attention and although there are accelerated students, a decline in their writing is observed. She also explains that the technology largely changes their capability to learn, making it hard to catch their attention without adjusting the teaching methods to their interests.

Experts studying the role of media on society say no adequate analysis on the shift of student attention span exists. But there is an indirect proof that consistent usage of technology affects youngsters’ behavior. Pew director for research, Kristen Purcell, supports the theses that the education system should adjust to support better students learning. She explains that the ‘distraction’ could sometimes be seen as an adults’ misunderstanding of how children process information, and regardless of being good or bad, it remains a label.

According to the studies many teachers see the technology as useful educational tool. In the Pew survey, nearly 75 percent of 2,462 teachers acknowledge the positive effects of Internet and search engines on student research skills. But nearly 90 percent claim that digital technologies were creating “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.”

Likewise, of the 685 teachers interviewed in the Common Sense project, 71 percent said technology was harming attention span, and about 60 percent said it slowed down students’ ability to write and communicate directly. Almost half said it afflicted critical thinking and their ability to do homework.

Media consumption at home affects the successful realization in school. Teachers highlight the “Wikipedia problem” – getting quick answers with a few keystrokes is causing difficulties in answering even easy questions. Students’ ability to focus and face academic challenges rapidly declines. This is more obvious with students who were allowed unfettered access to television, phones, iPads and video games. Therefore, individual tutoring sessions and more challenging assignments should be implemented as teaching methods.

Other teachers participating in the study saw technology as a solution, not a problem. They say that excellent ways to engage students are educational video games and digital presentations. Using more dynamic and flexible teaching techniques could be another solution, but moderately used. Once children were engaged, they were just as able to solve problems and be creative as before the hi-tech era.

While the Pew research looked at the change of student research habits caused by the Internet, the Common Sense survey focused on teachers’ subjective points of view. Some of the findings are actually contradictory. In the Common Sense research some teachers answered that although there was decline of the attention spans, students were improving in math, science and reading.

Researchers explain the conflict as a result of subjectivity and prejudice. Pew said its research provided a “complex and at times contradictory” portrait of teachers’ view of technology’s impact.


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