Digital Information Overload Overwhelms and Distracts Students


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Permanently Distracted Students?

The Internet provides an infinite information source for today’s students, yet the students’ digital literacy skills need improvement – however, other thought-provoking findings are the levels of distraction information technology seems to be causing, and its effects. The majority of teachers (87%) agreed with the assertions that “today’s digital technologies are creating an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.

Almost the same number agreed that “today’s students are too ‘plugged in’ and need more time away from their digital technologies.” To emphasise the distractibility of the technological era, over two-thirds of teachers agreed with the statement  that “today’s digital technologies do more to distract students than to help them academically.”

These results  led to an interesting discussion between Decoded Science, Lee Rainie, Director Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project  and one of the teachers who took part in the survey: Mr. Joel Malley, a ninth grade AP Teacher from Cheektowaga, New York.

Lee Rainie- Image by Pew Research

Decoded Science: It seems that children will use the Internet for research, so maybe Internet skills should be taught earlier on – in the last 2 grades of elementary school – so good research habits can be instilled?

Joel Malley:  I think so. Internet searching skills should be introduced earlier on but with most literacy skills these lessons must be consistently revisited and built upon. I’m not the hugest fan of the Core Common Standards, but the word research shows up in skills mentioned in the standards as early as PreK, so I think that with this new emphasis, in addition to the stressing of several smaller research projects rather than one and lengthier reports, there is increased opportunity to revisit the conversation about good internet searching skills — evaluation of sources, search skills, etc.

Decoded Science: Could it be that teens are given too many school projects based on ‘information search’ instead of their own opinions and thinking skills and  because of the ease of Internet research – in order to cut down research time – they use the Internet since other forms of research are not readily available and time limits for projects etc. are short?

Joel MalleyI can only give you my perception and what I’ve gathered from kids and conversation on this one. But, yes, I think that too many research projects are regurgitation based and lend themselves to shallow thinking done quickly. Most basic information can be found with one or two searches. Other more analytical projects like the type we do in AP Literature, require kids to find journal articles with literary criticism beyond what SparkNotes will provide. As for projects, I don’t see project duration as a problem because most kids get 4-5 weeks for a lengthy research project. Like most people, kids procrastinate on these projects and then fall into bad research habits.

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