This week I attempted to track my distractions while working and reading for the course. I tracked when I found myself picking up the phone because of a notification, getting up for the doorbell, feeling hungry and getting food (or tea) and lastly, when my partner asked me a question or started a conversation. Note: this is a simplification of distractions as the list of distractions could be infinite.
The goal was to put myself into the shoes of a student doing remote learning and attempt to track the distractions that my teacher may want to have insight into. As we explored in the Learning Block, just because the video is playing doesn’t mean that a student is engaged in the content.
My first reflection was that distractions are everywhere you look. If you take your eyes off the screen for a second, there’s a distraction. There are distractions in the traditional classroom as well, but over the pandemic, students have struggled even more so to stay engaged in the lesson while at home. If everyone in the room is doing the same thing, you don’t have your phone, no one is allowed to start a conversation with you, and there’s no doorbell, I’d say you’ve got a higher chance of staying focused.
A second reflection is that a lot of the distractions are muscle memory. I’m sure I missed tracking several distractions as a result. Picking up and putting down the phone while doing three other things at once has become the new norm.
The idea behind minimising distractions is that it enhances engagement, and thus, learning. My assumption was that gathering this in a dashboard could be useful for the teacher to understand gaps in engagement.
One thing we would have to consider is how the data was collected – by hand and self reported, or using a technology. By hand would place a large responsibility on the student in addition to their ‘job’, i.e. to learn. Tracking distractions using technology could infringe upon their data privacy as it arguably “yields an abundance of data beyond mere academic test results” (van Dijck et al, pg. 125, 2018). Moreover, what do we do with that data once the school year is over? Is it the teacher responsibility to ‘get rid of it’?
The key question here is ‘if distractions are tracked, what use is it for the teacher on a dashboard‘? As hinted at by Brown (2020), some data may be better than no data, but only if the teachers truly understand it and know what to do with it.
Lastly, in a remote learning environment, there is not much the teacher can do, with or without technology, to minimise the distractions. Trying to could be seen as surveillance rather than helping the learning process (Lupton and Williamson, 2017).
Brown, M. 2020. Seeing students at scale: how faculty in large lecture courses act upon learning analytics dashboard data. Teaching in Higher Education. 25(4), pp. 384-400
Lupton D, Williamson B. The datafied child: The dataveillance of children and implications for their rights. New Media & Society. 2017;19(5):780-794. doi:10.1177/1461444816686328
van Dijck, J., Poell, T., & de Waal, M. 2018. Chapter 6: Education, In The Platform Society, Oxford University Press