Thursday, July 31, 2014

Digital distractions a problem for students

Dependence on technology is having an impact on post-secondary education, leaving educators wondering what they can do about it?
This was the focus of “Are You Being Skunked By Technology?”—a presentation led by Jim Lees, counselling supervisor at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, here last Wednesday.

Lees developed the presentation because local Confederation College director Anne Renaud wanted him to see a student who had failed a semester because of video games.
Lees thought it was a good idea, noting he is surrounded by “Generation Y” individuals at home and at work, and is well-aware of young people’s habits when it comes to computers, video games, and smartphones.
Lees admitted he can’t imagine life without his computers and other devices, and identifies with students’ dependence on technology. But generally speaking, the younger generation is much more “addicted” to tech than their elders.
Smartphones, which are used for phoning, texting, gaming, watching videos, and anything else a computer can do, are everywhere.
A recent study conducted in British Columbia by iamota and Insights West showed 64 percent of respondents owned a smartphone. Of those aged 18-34, 86 percent owned one.
On top of that, 22 percent of all people who don’t own a smartphone planned to get one in the next 12 months.
Meanwhile, a survey by Ipsos Canada showed that among all Canadian teens (ages 13-18), 43 percent have smartphones.
And sales of mobile devices are, for the first time ever, projected this year to exceed all other forms of computers (i.e., desktops and laptops).
Lees said not only is smartphone ownership way up in Canada, but users increasingly are dependent on it.
Eight out of 10 smartphone owners said they don’t leave home without their mobile device while two-thirds said they used their phone every day in the past week.
The Insights West survey showed the average smartphone owner spends 12 hours a week (1.7 hours a day) on their device, checking the weather, taking and sharing photos, texting, and so on.
They check their device 19 times a day, an average, with 62 percent checking every hour or more.
A total of 38 percent of students say they cannot go more than 10 minutes without checking in with their laptop, smartphone, tablet, or e-reader.
Texting is the most popular smartphone activity among youth, with Lees saying he’s seen how the ambiguity of texting (as opposed to talking on the phone) has had students come to him with their problems resulting from this.
For example, a female student was upset because her boyfriend didn’t respond to her text in five minutes, interpreting his lack of response as indicating he was angry with her.
But when Lees suggested she call her boyfriend to find out if what she believed was true or not, she exclaimed it would “take too much time.”
Much time also is spent on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, and Linkedin—even though often the posts people make are as interesting as “I am eating a cookie now,” joked Lees.
Speaking more generally about Internet use, the average Canadian spends 41.3 hours a month online, views 3,731 webpages a month, and watches 291 videos a month (the latter spanning an average 24.8 hours in duration).
On top of all this, the average Canadian adult watches 30 hours of TV a week (although multi-tasking with a multimedia device while watching TV could account for some overlap in hours of Internet use and TV watching).
Lees admitted than even he spends too much online. But when one considers that students are trying to study, do school work, and maintain these online habits at the same time, it’s a very difficult balance.
A month ago, Lees spoke to Confederation College students here, who told him that digital distractions:
•take away time for quality communication;
•make them distracted;
•affect their health;
•keep them inside and make them gain weight;
•cause children to play less, and affects their creativity and development;
•affect their mood;
•affect their expectation of speed/causes impatience; and
•challenge past notions of intimacy.
While technology can be beneficial to education, such as enabling distance education, several at last Wednesday’s presentation agreed many students are challenged to focus in class and their learning is compromised to some degree.
Fort Frances OPP Cst. Anne McCoy said the key is media management—teaching young people to be responsible with the powerful technological tools the adult world has given them.
She compared it to giving children keys to a car but not teaching them how to drive.
Lees noted that while he has come to rely on technology to help him remember facts and dates, he’s concerned about youth growing up relying constantly on the Internet as a source of information.
He added he developed a knowledge base on his own first, and now uses technology to further that or remind himself what he already has learned.
“I think we’re finding the kids haven’t done this knowledge base-building,” Lees remarked.
“They just have this broad access to quick information, which they substitute for wisdom; for depth of understanding.
“And I think that’s what scares me about education—how easily this [Internet-sourced information] comes,” he said.
The impact of distraction on post-secondary students also was evident in a survey done to determine job readiness, as well as compare how ready students thought they were for a job right out of school and how ready hiring managers thought those same students were.
One of the findings was that students felt they were able to priorize work much better than hiring managers felt they were.
“One description of the younger generation is they’re highly-distracted because there is so much competing for their attention,” noted Lees, adding this has affected their ability to organize and to priorize work.
Video games
One distraction that has proven to be a huge time-waster for students, especially males, is video games.
A survey last year of Canadian colleges by the American College Health Association showed that behind stress, anxiety, sleep difficulties, and sickness, Internet/computer games was a major negative impact on students’ academic performance.
While nearly all teens—male and female—play videos games of one kind or another, and one-third play games every day, males play more games and for longer periods of time.
Lees said he personally knows young men who have played games for 10 hours straight.
This is even more problematic when one considers that boys already are an “endangered species” in post-secondary education, noted Lees.
Right now in Canada, 60 percent of post-secondary students are female while just 40 percent are male.
Cam Adair, a former video game addict, explained on a TED Talk video that video games provide a temporary escape, are often social (over the Internet), provide a challenge/purpose for the player, and often provide a constant measure of growth/success (such as moving up a level or unlocking an achievement).
Together, these form an addictive activity.
Adair reasoned that combatting video game addiction starts with parents.
“The iPad is not the new baby-sitter,” he stressed. “They need interaction, not entertainment.”
Adair also mentioned that gamers play for specific reasons, such as being social.
Others should help them find this same need in other activities.
Gamers should be treated with compassion and encouragement, not judgement, Adair added.
Above all else, he noted, those addicted to video games frequently want to do something else in their lives but feel they don’t have permission even when they do.
“You have permission,” said Adair.
Lees, meanwhile, said the video game issue isn’t going to go away.
“Is it an issue in post-secondary? Absolutely. Is it going to be increasing? Absolutely,” he warned.
“The more miniature those consoles are, and the ability to be able to play them on a bus or while you’re driving, the ability to play it in the back while you’re a passenger—all of those things mean more and more people are going to play.
“I think this is going to become more and more of something we should be dealing with as educators,” Lees added.
Lees said he’ll continue to offer his presentation to college students at the beginning of each school year.

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