Imagine a college course that requires students to give up computer and cell-phone technology for a month — and, in fact, to cease speaking entirely for that period.
Then imagine that the class is super-popular, with students clamoring to get in.
This scenario fascinates me because, if successful, it would be the polar-opposite situation to the one I wrote about last month, in which psychology professor Larry Rosen urged his colleagues to give students "tech breaks" to check their cellphones during college classes. On this view, traditional-age college students' brains are not yet fully developed and, thus, highly distractible.
Rosen's work, as he describes it in a Psychology Today post, has showed that when observed studying, university students (as well as students in younger grades) "were only able to focus and stay on task for an average of three minutes at a time and nearly all of their distractions came from technology."
Rosen goes on to write, based on interviews with thousands of students:
"When alerted by a beep, a vibration or a flashing image they feel compelled or drawn to attend to that distraction. However, they also tell us that even without the sensory reminder they are constantly thinking internally, 'I wonder if anyone commented on my Facebook post; or 'I wonder if anyone responded to my text message I sent 5 minutes ago' or even 'I wonder what interesting new YouTube videos my friends have liked.'"
What a dismal picture!
Scathing responses to Rosen's "tech break" recommendation weren't hard to come by. Though I'd written in my post about a group of seminar students I taught last month who didn't have a problem with distractibility (at least visibly), numerous comments at NPR's Facebook page focused only on the stereotypical, pulled-toward-their-phones students. One prominent theme was that college attendees who can't concentrate for 50- or 75-minute class periods shouldn't be in college at all.