Using technology to distract students from distraction

The lecture may begin with a poll. Next, they could be told to consult their peer’s blog posts written from the previous class. Halfway through the course, they must take a quiz. After that, they all watch a video. A review and class discussion of some relevant tweets follow.

Suddenly, class is done for the day. The pace may seem breathless, but the point, Yaros said, is to keep students engaged and free of distraction for the entirety of the lecture.

“The interactivity is a little overwhelming the first week for students,” Yaros said. “And some of them have to adjust. Some of them don’t like it. Some look up at the end of the period and can’t believe it’s a 70-minute class.”

The course is part of Maryland’s I-Series, a collection of courses more experimental in nature that attempt to challenge students in unconventional ways. In “Information 3.0,” the challenge can be just to keep up, but Yaros said his experiment is working.

There’s nothing on their iPads that blocks students from jumping to another app to find distraction. They’re simply too busy to, Yaros said.

Whether the initiative is based on BYOD (bring your own device) or 1:1 Learning (in which every student is paired with a device by an institution), the use of mobile devices in a classroom setting has been a contentious issue in recent years.

Distraction has been a worry for educators, of course, but there’s more to it than that.

“They’re not all used to it,” said Susan Einhorn, executive director of the Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation. “They’ve been perfecting their art, and on a certain path and trajectory for so long. This is a very different change in what they’re using. But it also provides a whole new host of opportunities.”

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