Digital Information Overload Overwhelms and Distracts Students


Home / Digital Information Overload Overwhelms and Distracts Students

Is technology distracting to students? Image by Justin Crann

The most recent nationally-representative surveys of the Pew Internet Project found that 95% of teens ages 12-17 are online, 76% use social networking sites, and 77% have cell phones.

These results emphasize  the considerable  amount of activity teens invest  in surfing the Internet, using social networking and accessing their mobile devices.

Are there any academic benefits from this surge in activity?

Is technology improving our student’s study habits or research skills? What kind of impact does technology have on students’ performance?
These are the main questions posed  in a new report “How Teens Do Research in the Digital World” published by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the College Board and the National Writing Project.

This study is particularly interesting because included in the 2,462 middle and high school teachers canvassed were  1,750 Advanced Placement teachers – those who teach the best students in America. Overall, mixed verdicts arose about students’ research habits and the impact of technology on their studies – views of generally positive impacts of online activity are outweighed by students being overly distracted by technology and over-reliant on search engines.

Information Search

In the area of information search, 99% of AP and NWP teachers agreed that “the internet enables students to access a wider range of resources than would otherwise be available,” and 65% agree that “the internet makes today’s students more self-sufficient researchers.”

However, 83% agree that the amount of information available online today is overwhelming to most students, and 76% “strongly agree” that internet search engines have conditioned students to expect to be able to find information quickly and easily. In addition, 78% give ratings of fair or poor regarding patience and the determination of their students in looking for information that is hard to find.

Quality and Variety of Information

What do teachers think about the quality and variety of information available through technology?

  • 60% agree that today’s technologies make it harder for students to find credible sources of information.
  • 71% agree that today’s digital technologies discourage students from using a wide range of sources when conducting research.
  • 94% say their students are “very likely” to use Google or another online search engine in a typical research assignment, placing it well ahead of all other sources.  Second and third on the list of frequently used sources are online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia (75%), and social media sites such as YouTube (52%).

Digital Literacy Skills

Are students able to recognize bias in online content, or do they believe everything they read? According to the study:

  • 71% of teachers rate their students as fair or poor in their ability to recognize bias in online content.
  •  61% also rate their students fair or poor when it comes to assessing the quality of information they find online – even though 91% say that judging the quality of information is “essential” for students to be successful in life, placing it atop a list of eight skills asked about.
  • 80% already spend class time discussing how to assess the reliability of online information.
  • 71%  already spend time discussing generally how to conduct research online.

Leave a Comment