Teaching the “Smartphone Generation”

The following post comes to us from a very special blogger, Shailini Jandial George, who is a Professor at Suffolk University Law School.

You have experienced a scenario like this: your students come to class with laptops, I pads and phones. They text and email during class. They giggle at something on their screens while you’re lecturing. They’re typing too fast to be taking notes on your lecture. You walk around the room and see Facebook or other social media sights on their screens. If you’ve experienced any of this, or just generally wonder about your students’ ability to focus and concentrate when they are used to this kind of constant stimulation, you’re not alone.

Our students grew up on computers, are used to googling the answers to questions, and are not in the habit of reading. Rather, they read in bits and starts, often clicking on hyperlinks before they read one document front to back. They often do at least two things at once. Research shows that this constant multitasking affects the brain and its ability to learn. Learning happens when we pay attention and process information. Multitasking prompts the wrong part of the brain to fire up (the part once used by cavemen to sense danger and flee) as opposed to the front of the brain used for deep focus and concentration. Some ideas as to how we can change this:

1.Teach students how to learn. They think they know, but they likely have never heard the term metacognition (“awareness and knowledge of one’s own cognition”). They should be instructed in the steps of learning and that law school involves the highest levels of learning—levels they may not have approached prior to law school.

2.Instruct students on the perils of multitasking. While they likely think they can do many things at once, that’s not true unless the two things are like reading and chewing gum. They should know that science has proven that we’re actually task “switching”, jumping from task to task, and that we leak a little mental efficiency with each “switch”.

3.Teach students about successful learning methods. Many are used to highlighting and rereading to “learn” material. Cognitive educational theory shows that those are the two least successful study techniques. Study techniques involving self-questioning, self-explanation, intermittent study of topics, and testing are more successful.

4.Teachers should design their courses by first considering the learning objectives and goals and working backwards to ensure they are met.

5.Teachers should use more visual aids and visual exercises so as not to overtax any one learning “channel”. Straight lecture can overburden the verbal channel. Visual aids and exercises engage more of the students’ learning channels and promote higher levels of learning, particularly where those exercises engage students’ higher order thinking skills.

6.Teachers should use more assessments so students can determine early and often whether they are learning the material. These assessments should mimic the type of assessments on which students’ grades will be based.

Have you found that your students are distracted? Do you wonder if class or the work holds their focus? I’d love to hear others’ perspectives!

One Response

  1. […] Re-posted from Best Practices for Legal Education blog: […]

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