Courtesy of canadianbusiness.com
Headphones on, cell phone by her side. As she works on her essay, she has several tabs open, including Facebook. Not a minute goes by after she starts writing before she picks up her cell phone. It beeps with a notification. She purposely puts the phone face down to avoid seeing it light up. Phone goes off again.
Cynthia Rubio, a Santa Rosa Junior College nursing student, struggles to stay on task, delaying the start of her homework. She can hardly concentrate for long periods of time. “It’s hard for me not to be looking at my cell all the time,” she says. “Sometimes I have to hide it in my backpack and put it on silent so I can get reading or writing done.”
Many times this does not work.
As people become more dependent on smartphones, studies show that our attention spans are decreasing as a result of their use. They also show the amount of time spent on social media in the classroom negatively impacts college students’ test scores.
Media distractions have always existed for students, but earlier forms of mass media, like television or radio, were considered background media, according to SRJC media instructor Linda Schoen. Now we have access to endless amounts of information on our phones, including several forms of social media.
Schoen says she has seen “a fundamental change in which media is affecting our attention spans and concentration levels.” Our phones are constantly going off with notifications, and we must stop what we are doing to check them, thus increasing the time it takes to complete a task.
“We have accepted and expect constant interruptions from our cell phones,” Schoen says.
“Our brains have the capacity to multitask, but there is a limit as to how much of it we can actually do.” For example, she points out if we are reading a chapter and stop several times during the process to check our phones, our ability to absorb material will be greatly impacted. “The context and flow of the reading is affected because our mind is constantly shifting from different subjects.”
Schoen remembers being able to grade homework for four hours straight, but now she can only stay focused for about two hours.
According to a 2015 Microsoft Corporation study, goldfish now have a longer attention span than humans do at roughly nine seconds. The average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds in 2015. Additionally, the study found respondents struggle to focus in environments where prolonged attention is needed.
In a poll of SRJC students, 34 percent said their use of social media or smartphones had affected their ability to concentrate when doing homework or studying for a test. The average student participates actively in at least three different forms of social media, with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat being the most common.
Mark Nelson, communication studies department chair, says he has attempted to incorporate social media, as per his students’ request, into his lesson plan.
It’s very common for students to deviate from the lesson and access other sites instead. According to Nelson, it’s easier for students to become distracted, and these distractions are having real effects on students’ performance and grades.
According to a study Longwood University’s Dr. Chris Bjornsen conducted and published in the Journal, of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, college students’ test scores suffer with cell phone use in class.
Bjornsen says, “Just as higher cell phone use predicts lower test scores, lower cell phone use also predicts higher scores.”
Most SRJC instructors prohibit the use of smartphones in class, but this doesn’t stop students from checking them. According to the SRJC poll, a majority of students check their phones four to six times each class.
Rubio admits doing her nursing homework takes longer than it should because of constant interruptions and wanting to see updates on social media. “Sometimes I wish I could make my phone disappear because I want to be checking on it all the time,” she says. She recalls getting in trouble in one of her classes when she forgot to put her phone on silent and it went off. “My teacher made me bring cookies for the whole class,” she says.