I've just read an interesting post by Stephanie Chasteen, Digital distraction in the classroom. When we discuss students being distracted by social media in class we generally attribute such behaviour to the teacher not engaging them and simply lecturing. However this seems to be a simplification of the problem. Despite all efforts to involve students in her lessons and avoiding the pitfalls of traditional lecturing Stephanie observed that a number of students were off task anyway and wonders why.
The fact that you can access social media in class proves to be too tempting for some students despite the interactive nature of the session. The solution offered is to involve students from the start in drawing up guidelines for classroom involvement and make the issue of attention and respect a clear issue from the very start.
As I have no doubt mentioned several times before here, this is not a problem that can be simply attributed to any stereotype generation X/Y/Z, homo zapiens or digital native. I see the same behaviour in conferences and meetings and am myself also guilty of being easily distracted. Just as students like to keep up to date with their social networks, their teachers and professors enjoy being efficient multi-taskers by simultaneously attending a conference whilst attending to e-mails and other communication channels. A major reason behind this is the fear of drowning in the flood of e-mails if you dare to switch off for too long. As a result you tend to check the in-box the moment a conference speaker wanders away from your immediate area of interest.
I will try to resist the temptation to go off task but at the same time there are pressures on both sides of this problem. On the one hand we all admire today's ideal of the multi-tasking, mobile worker always available and always productive but also critical of people's inability to pay attention for more than a few minutes. Switching off all channels for a two day conference can be very positive for your competence development but the price to pay is when you get back to your office and discover a backlog of e-mails and several irritated calls in your voice mail wondering why you haven't responded.
Maybe it's time to have a discussion about common guidelines in every workplace. It's not just a student problem.