Overuse of technology impedes students’ focus

Students continue to use technology, even during class breaks. — Max Potter

By Maria Clara Lacerda, Jackson Wojnowski, and Ruby Reimann

After almost three months since the start of remote learning this school year, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) students continue to struggle staying focused during Zoom classes.

“Phones are definitely a distraction,” said junior Graham Stearns. “I think it’s more of a personal problem rather than something teachers can control. [My phone] is having a negative impact on my learning and productivity because it’s taking time away from other things I could be doing.”

While students acknowledge their own accountability in their increased use of technology, distraction and a worsening attachment to phones is also a by-product of remote learning which allows students to check their phone without the repercussions they would typically face if they were learning in person.

More and more time spent on screens has translated not only to increased technology use  during Zoom classes, but also to increased technological savviness. Students can simply shrink their Zoom tabs during class, making it easy—in theory—to mess around with their sound mixing in order to watch a movie on Netflix while their Zoom class is silent, all while seeming to be present.

Use of simultaneous technology is easier and more tempting than ever. Senior Owen Steenkamp acknowledged that he often finds himself using his computer during Zoom classes for ulterior purposes. “Usually, it’s to get work done for other classes, mostly with the intent that after school, I can get off the screen and do something else.”

Being confronted by teachers for catching up on other classes’ workloads during Zoom sessions has not been an issue for Owen. “I try not to do it while they are teaching, more when there are lulls,” he said.

Because students are putting their phones on their computer screens during Zoom classes to make it appear as though they’re looking into the camera, teachers are facing a problem they’ve never had before: not being able to see if their students are on their phones.

Teachers have had to navigate how to keep students engaged with increased distractions at home. History teacher Leigh Fairchild-Coppoletti said, “I have to try not to think about it too much and just stay engaged in the lesson, because if I think about it too much I start getting paranoid about students on other devices and I lose my momentum.”

Because virtual learning requires more independence on the part of the learner, students now have to be more accountable for themselves, as they no longer have a teacher telling them to put their phone down.

Senior Kate Howell said, “Having my phone by my side at all times during school has been challenging. It’s hard not to glance at notifications or even click on them during class.”

Students struggle to pay attention in class with the continuous instream of notifications and buzzing of phones. On Zoom, teachers are unable to see more than students’ faces, and sometimes are unable to see students at all if their cameras are turned off. (The expectation is that cameras be kept on, but management of this expectation is tricky.)

The technological impact on the learning experience is becoming a topic of discussion among the student body at MVHRS because of waning attention spans, self control, and motivation.

“Students are talking about something that is so important,” said Ms. FC, “which is intrinsic motivation. Students realizing that phones have been really distracting will help the student body to develop tools to deal with this. This is a reality of your world that affects no other generation.”