Banning devices not the answer, study shows
Despite expert opinion finding that the use of electronic media while doing schoolwork has a negative impact on learning, recent research has found that students believe they are immune to ill effects because they are good multitaskers.
Researchers have a name for the frequent juggling of multiple streams of information and entertainment media — like checking social platforms or watching a TV show while studying. It's known as 'distracted learning' and it is most definitely on the rise, thanks to the ubiquitous presence of devices.
Food chemistry professor Shelly J Schmidt of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also serves as a Fellow at UIs Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning. Like many of her peers, she grapples with the problem of students being distracted by mobile devices during class.
In a paper published in the Journal of Food Science Education, Schmidt reviewed recent studies on distracted learning and suggested strategies to help students stay engaged and on task.
Schmidt says the restrictions or bans set by some faculty members are difficult to enforce and also relegate consign technology into the role of being 'the enemy'.
"Banning technology use in the classroom suggests to our students that they are children who can't learn to appropriately handle it, rather than young adults we are helping to grow into professionals," Schmidt said.
"In a world where distractions abound, we have a golden opportunity to help our students and ourselves learn how to control our actions and focus on what really matters. Learning how to become less distractible is an essential and timeless skill for success in education, as well as many other facets of life."
Schmidt believes there is opportunity in this situation to encourage students and young people in general to develop an internal locus of control.
"Armed with an internal locus of control, students are able to recognise and control factors that impede their success, such as distractions while they're trying to learn," she said.
According to the studies that Schmidt reviewed, researchers across a range of disciplines including psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience found that media multitasking interferes with both attention and memory when carried out simultaneously with schoolwork. Reading comprehension, note-taking ability, test performances and grade point averages all diminish.
"Listening to a lecture, texting, online shopping and socialising on Facebook are all complex, very demanding tasks that draw on the same region of the brain, the prefrontal cortex," Schmidt said.
"Under most conditions, the brain can't carry out two complex tasks simultaneously. But if students do not believe their learning is being hampered by this behaviour, they have no incentive or motivation to change it, and the problem just continues."
Schmidt outlines a range of strategies to compensate, ranging from limiting device time through a work-reward system to fostering a work-hard/play-hard mindset to boost brain function and improve cognitive control. She also favours an environment that promotes active learning, inherently removing the need for stimulation from smartphones and other devices.
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