Getting smarter with digital distractions

(Last Updated On: May 10, 2017)

Distraction of the digital kind is on the rise in classrooms. How can you successfully oversee devices and online access? Smart classroom management tools like Classwize could be the answer, writes Scott Noakes.

In the aptly named article ‘We have met the enemy and he is us’1 the authors rate self-produced distractions, such as playing games, checking emails and surfing the net, as the most common classroom distractions, with more than a third of students admitting to ‘multitasking’ in class time.

Alongside this, academic evidence is pointing to the detrimental effects of distraction. Research is demonstrating that multitasking is not an effective way to learn and will ultimately affect achievement. Leading expert Dr Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University, refers to it as ‘Continual Partial Attention’. He strongly advocates that if we want students to learn and perform at their best, smartphones and other online distractions must be managed.

Research into the attitudes of teachers around the globe shows that the education profession agrees. Last year, an international survey of more than 2,000 teachers reported that 62 per cent were most concerned about distraction in class, more so than privacy and security. Yet 74 per cent of these still believed in the potential future benefits of these devices.


Differing ways to manage

This management can take different forms. Some schools simply block access to sites with the potential to distract. There are downsides to this approach. Some resources, such as YouTube, offer a wealth of information on a topic. Social media is a fantastic way of communicating with external experts or organisations that could add to a discussion. Plus, particularly at college level, schools are meant to be preparing students for the outside world, where websites are not going to be blocked in lectures or in the workplace.

An interesting finding from tertiary students in the US identified that the undergraduates’ ability to ‘self-regulate’ their use of social technologies gradually improved as they progressed through university. This would suggest that high schools could help students learn more effective self-control techniques prior to further study or embarking on a career, rather than just removing the source of distraction.

If you add to the equation that the number one reason that students give to explain their distraction is boredom, then preventing access to resources that could enhance engagement is shooting yourself in the foot.

Choosing smarter access

At Linewize, we advocate smarter ways to manage digital distraction. Why not acknowledge that appropriate internet is context specific and let the teachers set the context and access policy? If social media is lesson relevant then allow it. If students show themselves to be able to self-manage online use then respect that by creating an open environment. Address outlier behaviour through conversation and applying lesson-specific restrictions to the student or the class if needed.

With a smart classroom management tool like Classwize, this is simple for a class teacher to implement. Linewize enables a teacher to easily add and remove filters. Three minutes into a lesson, after ‘check-in’ time is over, a teacher can restrict the class to the resources that they require for that session or, if the students need to undertake broader research, the teacher has complete visibility over what sites they are surfing. The filters can be lifted for the break halfway through class, and simply restored after a couple of minutes to bring students back on task.

Not only is the issue of digital distraction resolved for the classroom teacher, but the school is also modelling an effective way that a student can learn to self-regulate their impulse to access social technology.  

Scott Noakes is CEO of Linewize.

To learn more, go to his workshop at INTERFACEXpo 2017 or visit

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1 Tesch F, Coelho D, Drozdenko R (2011): The relative potency of classroom distracters on student concentration: We have met the enemy and he is us.

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