There’s not a professor I know who hasn’t bemoaned Facebook, texting, iDevices, etc. as in part responsible for the decline of students’ attentions spans (if not, at times, the decline of the Western world). Psychologist Larry Rosen of California State University – Dominguez Hills has a suggestion, perhaps even a solution: Rather than chide a classroom of college students wondering if they’ve gotten that text from someone or if someone(s) has (have) responded to their status update, Rosen suggests giving students a “tech break.” Letting students take a couple minutes off to use technology — so they know they won’t be entirely “tech-deprived” for a certain block of time — can actually help them to focus better, he says.
Says education website Hechsinger Report:
In a forthcoming book, iDisorder, Rosen argues that all our tech gadgets and applications are turning us into basket-cases suffering from versions of obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention-deficit syndrome.
“Kids are thinking all the time, ‘Oh my god, who texted me? What’s on Facebook?’” says Rosen….. He says the average computer programmer or medical student can only stay focused on a task in front of him- or herself for three minutes.
A “tech break” works, says Rosen, because it helps you satisfy that gnawing desire to check for texts or tweets or comments, etc.. Having checked, you have then “literally freed up space in your brain to focus on more important things, like solving the global energy crisis or creating world peace.”
Of course, taking such breaks too frequently (even five minutes, for instance) would defeat the purpose. Rosen suggests structured intervals of studying, focusing, research-paper writing, etc., interspersed with tech breaks. You could read your anatomy and physiology textbook for 10 minutes then take your tech break for a minute. A parent could have a child study for 30 focused minutes, then let her or him their tech break for 15 minutes or save the minutes up to use later, thereby teaching a child a lesson about delaying immediate gratification.
Rosen’s idea can be seen as a common-sense strategy many of us learn to use at one time or another, motivating ourselves to complete a larger task by giving ourselves breaks or rewards — positive reinforcement, to quote from behaviorism — at intervals. Implementing Rosen’s tech breaks in an actual college classroom or lecture hall might not really be possible. But it is notable that Rosen, rather than defying texting, Facebook and the like and dubbing them the enemies of learning, takes into account how integral such technologies have become in the lives and ways of being not only of students, but of many of us.
Rosen’s in-class tech-break suggestion makes texting in (gasp!) class acceptable, within pre-defined parameters. If it’s no longer forbidden to text or check FB in class, could students find that tuning into a professor’s discussion about Satan as the hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost or Weber’s theory of the Protestant work ethic and capitalism is worth a “like” or two?
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