Go to a restaurant or even a university classroom at the beginning of a class and you will undoubtedly see people staring intently at their cell phones. Some are texting, others are tweeting, looking at Instagram or Snapchat, and others are busy replying to emails. Let me also add that in the university setting, I often see my students not only with their devices, but with ear buds or headphones on as well. Out on the trail, bikers and runners are “connected” to Strava or some other App that is monitoring their time and comparing it to others. Why do I care? Because I think it is impacting our relationships with those we care about as well as our own ability to be present and enjoy what is in front of us at this very moment. I also think it is impacting the ability of college students to stay focused for a 50-75 minute block of time during class, and this is even in a class where they are asked to participate actively. I know this because I will explain something and, five minutes later, a student will ask a question that I just answered. Some of the other students will look at me wondering if I’m going to berate the student that asked the question. I don’t, but it is evident that they, too, know that I just provided the answer a few minutes ago. Of course, there are ways of helping that distracted student become more focused the next time around. I also see this outside of the classroom when people are multitasking between their devices and performing some sort of work task or engaging in a conversation with the person in front of them.
As a senior lecturer of accounting at NAU and also as a private practitioner in the business community, I find myself guilty of being too attached to my device. In line at the Starbucks or at a grocery store, it is all too easy to check my emails from my iPhone or send out a few text messages. In the evenings, I am also guilty of checking my emails because my phone is close by.
Since I have a few different email accounts for different purposes, checking my emails throughout the day and into the evening often results in some sort of “to-do list” that has to be noted so I don’t forget. My mind starts churning. The result? Too often, a feeling of burnout. It has become evident to me that technology is addictive and convenient and that it is important to set boundaries and not let it take over your life. For me, that means having the self-discipline to not check my emails after a certain time each day, or at all over the weekend or at least for one weekend day. It also means challenging myself to be more present when I’m in line at a store or bored with a task instead of using my device for quick entertainment.
In the last six months, I have attended two higher-education teaching-with-technology conferences. Interestingly enough, there is a theme of meeting the students where they are, so we can better engage them. Some faculty use Snapchat to engage their students and send them reminders. Others use Facebook, Instagram and, yes, even group or individual texting! In addition to this, most of our courses now come with digital solutions (online homework, videos, texts, etc.). We are encouraged to be more “engaging” and entertaining and to that end, I am constantly striving to help them become better life-long learners.
I am a strong proponent of structuring my class time in such a way that the students are active in the process and not just sitting there listening to a lecture the entire time, but it seems like we are doing a disservice to them if we are not teaching them the skills to be successful in life. I would count the ability to focus one’s attention on the task at hand as an important life skill. Some faculty take the approach of banning cell phones in the classroom or the student will have the phone taken away. While I understand what the faculty member is trying to accomplish with that technique, I would rather challenge the student to have the self-discipline to put his or her device away and pay attention. Not doing well in the class (even failing) or performing poorly on an exam is the natural consequence of being distracted by the availability of a cell phone or other electronic device. That consequence might help motivate them to put away their phones next time or use their laptop for class purposes instead of surfing the internet. When they leave college and are employed, I doubt their co-workers or supervisors are going to take their phones away. Instead, if they don’t perform their duties as expected because they are constantly distracted, they may end up losing their job. So, I would rather have them learn this lesson in college before they enter the workplace.
Technology is a wonderful thing in many ways but as is true with many great inventions, there are potentially negative side effects. Watch the news and you will see evidence of this. The challenge is in finding balance. Take the challenge and track how often you look at your cell phone throughout the day. Believe it or not, there are even Apps now that will track how often you check your cell phone! Consider not having email and social media notifications set to “on” so it easier to focus on whatever it is you are doing (work, family, etc.) Challenge your family to put away their phones while you are eating dinner or spending quality time together. Take a hike or do something outdoors and turn the ringer off on your phone. In summary, be present. FBN
By Jenny Staskey