Computers distracting, or instruction lacking?

Here’s an interesting article a ran across that studied the off-task computer behavior of law students.  Here are some of the highlights!

The study found certain actions “promoted off-task behavior”:

  • Student laptop users tend to go off-task when X-(anything) occurs for 4 minutes or more…
  • When professor is engaged in Socratic method with one student, there is a an increase in off-task behavior by other students
  • When a classmate engages with professor, there is an increase in off-task behavior by other students.
  • When professor is monotone, or, overly uses one linguistic intonation style, students tend to increase off-task behavior
  • Approximately 40 minutes into class, off-task behavior increases.
  • When professor calls on students in expected order, off-task behavior increases.


What about strategies to get people to pay attention? The report has some answers there as well:

1)    “Announcing-the-Good-Stuff” Strategy: Students redirect attention away from off-task behavior when professor provides big-point-summaries, rule formations, definitions, and conclusions. “Ultimately, courts look at X…”;  “The upshot is…”

2)    Using the “Rupture Strategy”: Students decrease off-task behavior when directed to an item in a book, chalkboard, digital presentation, in-class task, etc. “Look at page X…”;   “On the chalkboard you see…”; “On the screen, notice X…”, “Write a brief X…”

3)    “Changing-up-the-Voice” Strategy: Students redirect attention away from off-task behavior when the professor prefaces content with signal phrases like: “This would be a good exam question…” “ I want to flag for you…” , “The critical idea here is…”

Or, by using linguistic mannerisms like intonation, especially rising intonation found in questions: “And, how would you know   X     ?”;  “Because……..?”

4)    “Problem-Posing” Strategy: Students redirect attention when the professor asks a problem-solving question to the class (less so than targeting one student). “How might we determine X…?” “If we alter X, what might Y?”

5)“Keep-the-Show-Moving” Strategy: Students redirect attention away from off-task behavior when the professor manages “the duration of any X” so it doesn’t exceed 4-5 minutes. For example, the professor   1) may present info (5 min or less) switch 2) ask a question to the class (5 min or less)  switch 3) direct students to book (5 min or less) switch 4) ask an individual a question and have student respond (5 min or less). switch, etc.  6)“Moving-into-student’s-space” Strategy: Students redirect attention when professor moves toward off-task individuals (but surprisingly only for a short time).


Mike Masnick Thu, Mar 8th 2012

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