Students “Wired for Distraction”

Maybe watching TV after school was not so bad after all.  The days of students procrastinating by watching TV appear to have been less damaging than the distractions of technology today, and it could impact how we teach.  With the development of smartphones and the Internet, students have more interaction with technology than ever before, and in many different mediums.  Specifically, YouTube, Facebook, video games, music and anything else they can get their hands on.

In a New York Times article entitled “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” scientists have found that the stimulation received from instant feedback and multitasking can have a profound impact on developing brains.  In a study comparing the impact of television and video games on sleep and memory of vocabulary, researchers found “that playing video games led to markedly lower sleep quality than watching TV, and also led to a ‘significant decline’ in the [subject’s] ability to remember vocabulary words.”  One researcher speculated that the impact may be due to “the intensity of the game experience over[riding] the brain’s recording of the vocabulary.” “‘When you look at vocabulary and look at huge stimulus after that, your brain has to decide which information to store,’ he said. ‘Your brain might favor the emotionally stimulating information over the vocabulary.’”  The impact on learning can be detrimental because “If you’ve grown up processing multiple media, that’s exactly the mode you’re going to fall into when put in that environment — you develop a need for that stimulation.”

The issue now becomes whether technology should be embraced as part of the solution.  Many teachers loathe the idea of bringing more technology in as they have already seen a regression in high school reading abilities, attributed to the student’s short attention span. For example, students now read aloud in class because the teachers cannot trust that they have the attention span to read at home. In the world of law school, built on casebooks and self-discipline, one must be concerned about how these distracted students will impact the status quo of law school.  Perhaps even the top schools will have to embrace the technological future as we saw at Harvard. Or, just as likely, the top students will always overcome the distractions to gain admittance to top tier institutions.  It may be the middle of the law school pack that has to innovate in order to attract students.

This blog has noted different ways technology has been implement in the law school classroom.  One was the use of email in e-discover, while another focused on the use of TWEN’s features to keep students engaged.  It could be that these will be the norm soon enough.

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