While our middle school has been 1:1 for 3 1/2 years last year was our first in the high school. The roll-out went smoothly and students and teachers settled into the new environment with very few issues. I will admit that I would occasionally hear teachers complain about students being distracted and off task while on the computer. Often I hear 1:1 advocates respond to this issue with, “If the learning activities in a 1:1 environment don’t change, the students will lose interest and become distracted. Students can’t just use the laptops for note taking in lectures.” This was certainly not the case with many of our classrooms. I took the grumbling seriously since it was coming from educators who I respected. I’d seen other classrooms where the laptops were only being used for taking notes during lectures and these settings were ripe for off task behavior, but this was not the case.
At this same time I noticed a change in my habits and behaviors online. I was having trouble focusing and I was spending way too much time sorting through e-mail. One example is that I’d open and e-mail, click on a link, return to my e-mail waiting for the link to load and keep moving on. Before long I had 20 tabs open and I hadn’t really focused on any of the resources. As I work on this post I frequently find myself yearning to check my e-mail. Sure, I’ve read Nicholas Carr’s, The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains (which Rheingold so I was aware of how technology was changing the way my brain works, but I my mind was slowly changing. This is the exact issue that our students face when it comes to the internet and distractions.
Pamela Livingston’s in her post 1:1 in the Classroom – Digital Distraction gives teachers practical tips for dealing with this issue in the classroom. I’d like to also suggest the ideas that Howard Rheingold offers in NetSmart: How to thrive online. While Rheingold is an avid user of the net and a staunch supporter of technology, he promotes the skills and habits of “mindfulness” which is one area of his concept of ”Infotention”. In the book, Rheingold quotes Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming of Dark Age. Jackson states, “If focus skills can be groomed, as research has begun to hint, the important next question is whether, and how, attention should be integrated into education. Will attention become a 21st-century ‘discipline’, a skill taught by parents, educators, even employers?” I believe that we do have to teach these skills in our classrooms. Rheingold offers the following strategies for becoming mindful, and paying attention.
- Plan blocks of uninterrupted time to focus on a task.
- Creating short-term goals and focus on meeting those within defined periods.
- Practice working on a single task for 15 – 20 minutes at a time.
- Create a diary of your online behaviors to be used to reflect on habits.
These ideas can certainly be incorporated in the classroom and Rheingold also has examples of what he does in his classes. For those of you who would like to learn more about these I ideas I encourage you to read Net Smart. I believe that we owe it to ourselves and our students to become more cognizant of how the internet is changing our lives and habits.