Potentially Negative Effects of Technology on Student Attention Spans

The pace of technology seems to increase leaps and bounds with the release of every new smartphone, tablet or other new device. Although many can tout the great benefits of such technological advances, teachers have long proclaimed that constant use of these devices has had a negative effect on student attention spans. According to an article from the New York Times, not only are attention spans affected, teachers say, but also a student’s ability to persevere in the face of difficult assignments.

Two recent studies, one conducted by the Pew Internet Project and the other by Common Sense Media, compiled views of classroom teachers about the impact of at-home digital entertainment on academic performance and development at school. Researchers acknowledge that the findings merely represent subjective views of the teachers, but suggest that the results are indeed significant since teachers spend numerous hours a day observing students.

Results from the studies indicate a similar feeling among the majority of the interviewed teachers. The bottom line? Students have shorter attention spans and teachers feel like they are fighting a losing battle to keep the students interested. Hope Molina-Porter, a teacher in California with 14 years of experience, feels like there has been a decrease in the depth of written assignments submitted. She too feels like she has to “do a song and dance to capture [students’] attention.”

Although no long-term studies have been performed to allow for analysis of how and if attention spans have actually changed due to use of digital technology, indirect evidence is beginning to suggest that constant use can effect developing brains. The situation is a double-edged sword since many teachers themselves admitted that technology can be an extremely useful educational tool. While 75% of teachers said internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” effect on research abilities, 90% indicated that digital technologies have created “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.” Many teachers cited a correlation between increased use of digital media and the critical thinking skills of students, and their ability to complete assignments at home. Once teachers were actually able to engage students, however, they performed as well as they have in the past. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if stronger evidence surfaces for the decrease in student attention spans and what effects it willhave on society as a whole.

What are your thoughts? Do you think there is a tangible correlation or are the viewpoints skewed because of their subjectivity? Is your attention span shorter or longer than it used to be? Share your thoughts below!


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