There’s so much hype and “research” and overall nonsense thrown around about the attention span of the average student that it’s really hard to figure out what’s actually happening. Are all students screwed? Are they in the same boat they’ve always been in? Should I be doing something as a professor to deal with the new oh-so-common distractions that I imagine affect my students’ learning?
Good thing I’m a student again and I can see what’s happening first hand!
Several times in the lecture last week I caught myself not paying direct attention to the prof. Either my mind would drift off or I would be looking into something interesting that ocurred to me – on the internet or on the local machine.
I was not checking facebook (I don’t have an account) or even my email. So does that count as being distracted or not? Having been aware of doing it it’s perhaps not the best test – but I found that almost in every case when the professor said something to attract my attention I had no trouble quickly switching my focus from checking somehting out on the computer to paying close attention to the prof.
Perhaps this is a rationalization but I really felt that I didn’t miss anything important i.e. stuff I didn’t already know, or interesting ways to present material.
I also think I noticed (though I didn’t pay close attention) that most students were in the same boat as me. Half the time in their own world, and every now and again concentrating on something curious the prof was saying.
Generally speaking I tend to agree with those who say that we cannot multitask, but being a programmer I am intensely aware that given a fast enough processor the illusion of multitasking can be easily created. Are we like a well written kernel scheduler? Can we put a task on hold having received an interrupt, switch to another task, dedicate 100% of ourseleves to that, and then switch back to the first, all without much task switching overhead?