BYOD and Distraction

BYOD and Distraction

The notion of being distracted is the topic that comes up first when discussing student devices in the classroom. It doesn’t matter who the audience either: students, parents, teachers, or administrators. It is a universal concern.

And this conversation often put too much emphasis on the wrong question: how do we manage the classroom with devices in the room? Important question? Yes.

But one of our pilot teacher says it best in a recent blog post:
[pullquote3 align=”center” cite=”Bill Horine”]”Everyone’s greatest concern – students will at times be disengaged from curriculum. They will use it in ways that don’t coincide with our curricular concerns. What makes this different from our classroom in the old paradigm? Haven’t students always sought to learn and communicate about THEIR interests ahead of ours? Students have always opted out of our lessons if we didn’t plan the activities to keep them essentially engaged. BYOD doesn’t alter that element of our job. Our task remains – engage students in authentic and essential ways”[/pullquote3]

So there are more important questions:

  • What is really causing the distraction?
  • How will you engage your students? How will we create environments where students can get into their flow?
  • How do we shift the of learning from object to process?
  • How do we best leverage these devices for learning independently and interdependently?
  • How do we redefine cheating in a collaborative culture?
  • When are the devices needed and when are they not needed?
  • How do we rethink the curriculum, instruction, and assessment when the sum of human knowledge is in front of them?
  • How do we shift our mindset to Connected Learning: interest-driven, networked-minded, and production focused?
  • What do we want students to know (content knowledge), do (skills), think (habits of mind), and be (experiences & dispositions)?

When our focus is on teaching and content, too much of our energy is wasted on a singular question of management. When our focus is on learning and learners, our focus shifts to deeper questions of discovery, engagement, innovation, and learning as a process.

Image: Personal Learning Environment, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from adesigna’s photostream


    • @Hannah Your response post is exceptional! This is the type of discussion I hope to have when we return in the fall. It provides rich fodder for actionable discourse.

      Thanks for sharing!

  1. Ryan,
    These are essential questions to be wrestled with, no doubt! Thanks for putting them out here.
    @Hannah – fantastic fleshing out of how you think through these questions. Your ideas can serve as a valuable springboard for further discussion, reflection, and action.

    I do think that there is a unique element to these digital devices that does not translate to “old school” distractibility, though. They offer far more than a few pencils, paperclips, erasers, pen casings, and wadded up paper that students have used to pass the time while not being engaged or appropriately and meaningfully challenged. However, this new lure is not just a problem for kids; it’s a problem for us all. Staff meetings, business meetings, presentations (yes, even excellent ones), dinner table, movie theatre, car (in the face of lethal consequences), dates, presidential addresses, sports events, … you name it… all can take a back seat to the call of connectivity and lure of countless forms of interaction (distraction?) that call some more than others. There is a reason why apps have been developed to allow users to lock themselves out of potentially distracting tangents while working on their devices.

    So, although I do not disagree in the slightest with what you both present, I do think we need to more honestly acknowledge that the challenges are greater than they were in the analog world. To deny this I think fails to honor the challenges that teachers (and all of us) face in this regard.

    • @Steve

      You are spot-on with your point about being distracted and the need for disconnecting. I’ve been wrestling with this a lot over the past year and have never “penned” my thoughts other than bits and pieces as part of other posts.

      But we need strategies for balance and we need to remove the focus on it being just a student issue. As I said at a panel presentation to our community, this is a societal issue – a point you also make. The importance in the classroom is to recognize that it will be tremendously more difficult to achieve balance if your instructional approach still rests upon a content-centered, teacher focused approach.

      And to be quite honest, I agree with these teachers that are in that mindset who fear how distracted students will be in the classroom. They will be considerably more distracted transparently than we could have ever imagined.

      • Right on. Things just are not as simple as they are often presented in theory. Although unrelated somewhat to your post here, an example of what I mean is well evident in Karl Fisch’s recent blog post, “Flawed and Uneasy Compromise”

        Perhaps a first step for many educators is simply to see and admit that things have changed and to demonstrate the willingness (and passion?) to grow…

      • Re: distraction. Yes, it will happen – but doesn’t it happen in the real world? Aren’t we all pulling out our phones and iPads during meetings, and mastering our multitasking abilities? Distraction is a part of our lives, and I propose it can be a part of the learning process. If students have bought in to their own learning journey, we don’t need to fear distraction. Students can also be held accountable for their time and actions – if they aren’t accomplishing the objectives, they lose privileges to use personal devices in class and will be given an alternate assignment.

  2. I have a lot to add to this discussion, but I will refrain because so many of you have already made such wonderful arguments. The only reason that I am replying tonight is because ALL of you have provided your opinions in a non-threatening manner. Every one of you are practicing the same “digital citizenship” lessons we want our students to internalize. Without these lessons (and engagement), our kids will continue to be distracted. Kudos to all of you for thoughtful responses!



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