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Digital Overload

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February 22, 2013 08:46 pm

The following blog post comes from Robyn Young, the school librarian at Avon High School and the Avon Advanced Learning Center in Avon, Indiana. She is a former Media Specialist of the Year in the State of Indiana.
My daughter said something interesting that really got me thinking about our connection with technology. She is an 18-year-old freshman in college and she said that she doesn’t feel as smart as she used to feel. She is having a really hard time keeping her focus when she is working on assignments or studying and doesn’t really know why that is happening.
After having watched her study when she came home last weekend, I definitely know the problem. She is constantly connected to her phone or laptop. She regularly checks (and by regular, I mean every couple of minutes) Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and sometimes even old-fashioned Facebook, mostly because that is where her mom and her mom’s friends often post. She also listens to music on her phone through YouTube, so she has to change songs every three minutes. While she is still as smart as ever, this situation has led to an atmosphere that is not conducive to learning.
I watched my students in class trying to work on assignments and I noticed the same thing. The phone goes off and they immediately respond to it. The song changes and they have to switch to a new one. It seems never ending, but a way of life to which they have become accustomed.
If I’m having trouble focusing, I know that our students are doing the same. So what do we do in this age of digital connectedness?  How do we teach our students and ourselves how to be connected, yet focused on our learning or our lives?
Full disclosure: while I wrote the last few paragraphs, my phone chirped at me to start a new update, my sister texted me, I got two Facebook posts that I, of course, responded to, and received two likes on an Instagram photo of my dog wearing my daughter’s new shoes (I just posted it…give me time to get a few more!) and I got a Ruzzle request.  I’m obviously just as encompassed by all of the technology as our students are.
I often wonder if all professions are experiencing this same sort of shift in focus. Are doctors or lawyers just as distracted as we are? What about scientists working on the next breakthrough? If they aren’t able to focus for more than a few minutes at a time, how will anything ever be discovered or changed or cured?
While I obviously am a strong proponent of using technology for student learning, we still have to teach students how to use our own personal technology wisely, at a time when we may still be struggling with that very thing ourselves. Do we model proper phone usage in the classroom, waiting to respond to the text from our kids or our parents? Or do we respond immediately because we have become people who are accustomed to immediate response?
While pondering all of these things…and with 3 more Ruzzle requests coming in…I thought of things we must teach our students and ourselves if we are going to progress in the digital age:
  1. When it is appropriate, we must turn off the phone. I didn’t say silence it because our students do that anyway. We have to be OK with not being in constant contact and actually turn it all the way off. If we did this for even an hour a day, we would be so much more productive. Let’s all try it and see what a difference it makes. (I know…I started shaking a little at the thought, but I’m going to try it tomorrow and see how it goes!)
  2. For the teachers: If we are to get something done, we must close email. The constant incoming emails are a detractor for our lesson planning, paper grading or professional development. Close it down and only check it a few times each day (maybe before school, during lunch, and after school). I know that is hard, but it is drawing so much time away from our students. There are times that I feel that I spend more time dealing with email than I do with teaching.
  3. For our students (and for some of us): We must close Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or SnapChat in order to get some work done. Power down the phone or tablet and don’t check it. See how much more productive you will be. This applies to music too! I know our students say that they work better with music on…but only if they don’t get interrupted to change the song every three minutes. Set up a playlist or listen to Pandora instead.
  4. Use technology as a tool to make you work better, not as a distraction or an effort to procrastinate what you don’t want to do. It’s there as a help for you…and a great one at that…but don’t let it be a hindrance to what you are doing.
  5. Have an open conversation with your students about this topic. You’d be amazed at some of their responses. They are often feeling just as overwhelmed as you, but aren’t sure how to put a plan into place. All of our students are feeling a lot of pressure to check up on all of their social media constantly because they don’t want to miss something. Let them know that it is OK to set aside certain times for social media so that it doesn’t rule their lives.
I’m not saying get rid of technology…I teach it all day long and wouldn’t want to do that. I am saying that we need to let it stop controlling us and our lives, and we need to share this with our students in order to help them develop a plan for dealing with the constant barrage of information that is coming their way…
…and now my phone is telling me that I need to respond to four more Facebook posts, two tweets, and seven games of Ruzzle!
Robyn Young is the school librarian at Avon High School and the Avon Advanced Learning Center in Avon, Indiana. She is a former Media Specialist of the Year in the State of Indiana. Contact Robyn at or on Twitter @ahsbooks . Learn more about Digital Learning Day at and read her previous posts on High School Soup at  
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