Devices and distraction

Recently I was scrolling through Twitter when I came upon this tweet by Eric Sheninger, and the interesting conversation that followed it.

What struck me from the conversation was that even though all the commenters were talking about the same topics, "devices" and "distraction", everyone was actually talking about something different.

Some replies talked about students being distracted by parents or friends texting during the day on their smartphone. Others were talking about the difficulties of managing classroom behaviour when students were all using school devices for a tech-centric task. Still others were talking about students being distracted by personal or school technology when they should be doing an entirely different task. 

The problem we have when we try to talk about devices and distraction is that the word "devices" encompasses so very much, while communicating so very little. The word "devices" can refer to personal devices that are never intended for use in the classroom, personal devices in a BYOD (bring your own device) model that are intended to be used in the classroom, or school-owned devices, and how they are being used or supposed to be being used by the students varies wildly from context to context, or even teacher to teacher.

To try and describe devices as distracting or not is as helpful as describing paper as distracting or not. Paper can be highly distracting when you are doodling on it, writing notes to pass on it, when it forms the pages of a book or magazine you would much rather be reading than listening to the teacher, or when you are using it to write something not connected to the task at hand.

Perhaps what we need to be thinking about is a more nuanced understanding of devices' role in the classroom, and an objective discussion around why, when they are distracting students, that is happening and, importantly, what we can do about it without cutting ourselves off from everything technology has to offer our students.