Getting Ahead of Digital Distractions

By Jeremy Levine, August 20, 2019

Nothing disappoints you more as a teacher than when your students are visibly unengaged with the teaching material. Selecting readings, designing lesson plans, and planning lectures takes hours of preparation for each class. Nonetheless, teachers today typically look out over a lecture hall of faces glued to phone and computer screens, unable to inspire a single student to merely raise their hand and answer a simple question.


Do you think your classroom benefits from the availability of technology during lectures, or does it act more as a distraction for students?

Articles from Harvard’s Bok Center for Education, renowned Ed-Tech researchers on technology blog Medium, and premier popular science journal Scientific American all argue that technology in the classroom currently distracts students more than it helps them. Students seem to feel the same way many academic researchers do; In a survey from academic journal Computers & Education cited by the Bok Center article, 80 percent of students themselves admitted they thought technology distracted them from learning.

So students realize they can get distracted by texts and the limitless reach of the internet, yet they continue to use these tools. Fortunately, there is a silver lining to all of these articles: While each one presents the case that technology allows students to be more distracted in the classroom than ever, they also all offer suggestions for how teachers can engage with students more directly than ever before. The way teachers accept and encourage technology use in the classroom can completely transform a student’s level of engagement.

To combat this growing problem, each article suggests using specialized Ed-Tech tools to create an interactive classroom. Although technology can distract, it can also connect students directly to their teachers and each other, encouraging real-time, synchronous engagement. There are a few simple techniques you can use to turn technology into an advantage rather than a detriment to the classroom and help you break through the digital noise.

The most innovative solution was found in the Medium article, which suggests showing “knowledge in an alternative fashion,” essentially posting lecture information in various digital mediums rather than a traditional slideshow or essay. Utilizing short in-class videos, websites, and interactive blogs allows you to take advantage of the internet to share new information. Your students will be both comfortable navigating these mediums and excited to learn in a modern way.

Using research on what makes students pay attention in lecture, the Bok Center article recommends encouraging interactivity to engage students. Rather than asking for students to raise their hands, which more and more students seem reluctant to do, use tools like question-and-answer platform Piazza or class chat rooms on Nectir to respond to students in real-time. Be prepared to make more flexible lectures so you have time to directly address student questions as they arise.

Lastly, you can use old-fashioned methods with a twist. Rather than outright banning computers and phones, Scientific American suggests collaborating with students to create a tech-use policy in every class. Working together to craft guidelines—instead of imposing rules from above—has been shown to be much more effective on student behavior.

Understanding and utilizing the types of technology your students are currently using to communicate can make a huge influence on their method of learning. You can choose to be physically present but digitally distant, allowing students to trawl the internet and continue to be unengaged with your lectures, or you can harness digital tools to teach more effectively. What kind of teacher do you want to be?

Sources: Harvard’s Bok Center for EducationEd-Tech researchers on technology blog MediumScience Journal: Scientific American

Connect Your Class
We'll set up Nectir for you and your students for free.
Connect your students for free