Digital distraction in class

When investigating Topic 1 in the ONL-course I stumbled upon a problem I’ve been thinking about in the classroom. The problem of students being tempted to use their electronic devices for off-topic activities and thus draw attention from the learning activity at hand. I found an article by Neiterman and Zaza (2019) where they investigate this problem.


The students in this study expressed that some behaviors have been normalized, for example if someone is checking their Facebook page on their laptop, it will not disturb the other students anymore. However, if they watched a video or a web page with shocking content, it could possibly disturb and draw attention away from the lesson. So there was a risk of disturbing each other in the classroom by engaging in off-topic activities.


Teachers on the other hand were categorized into three categories where the first category saw digital tools as just another mean for distraction, like reading the paper during the lesson. The second group thought that you should embrace and utilize the technical devices. Lastly, the third group considered that the technology is here to stay and that it will affect the learning process negatively and you should explain the risk and try to minimize the use of the digital tools.


Both teachers and students concluded that it is mostly up to the students to take responsibility for their own learning and minimizing the use of off-task technology in the classroom. The students pointed out that a boring lesson might lure them into using off-task technology.


My view is that the technology is here to stay and it should be used when appropriate. It is up to the students to take responsibility for their learning and for their activities in the classroom. Although as a teacher, one can help the students to be alert and not lured into off-task activities. You have to create learning activities that engage the students and make them busy during class. I tend to use the whiteboard quite a bit. This old-school technique of writing and drawing on the board makes the students busy while they’re trying to capture my illustrations for themselves. These writing/drawing-sessions are interrupted with the use of clicker questions by using This qives a break to the lesson, but also a break for reflection on the subject I just discussed. Both the students and I get information on how well they follow my lesson and it gives me an immediate response whether I can continue or if I should take a break and repeat. These breaks also make the student talk in class. Both to me, but also to each other, which probably is more important. To make them discuss the subject within the student group is invaluable.


So to conclude, digital tools can be very useful in a learning situation, but you have to ask yourself when and why to use it. Which is much more important than the technical skills and the ability to use the tools (Alexander, B. et al.). As a teacher, you can also address these issues to the students to make them aware of the possible downsides to avoid their unconsidered routine use of these tools.


Neiterman, E., & Zaza, C. (2019). A mixed blessing? Students’ and instructors’ perspectives about off-task technology use in the academic classroom. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(1).

Alexander, B., Adams Becker, S., and Cummins, M. (2016). Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project

Strategic Brief. Volume 3.3, October 2016. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

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6 thoughts on “Digital distraction in class

  1. A very interesting post and I agree with your conclusion. One part of digital literacy is also to know when not use it.

  2. Hello Patrick. These are definitely valuable insights and I appreciate the additional literature that is provided. I also agree that digital tools are indeed useful.

  3. Hi Patrik! I enjoyed reading your reflection. Yes, distractions! – what causes them and how to overcome them in the classroom – whether they’re digital or not. That’s an issue that teachers need to think about and deal with. As you point out, keeping learners engaged helps. Writing and drawing – both by the teacher and students – keep students’ brains active. Alternatively, a static slideshow could be a good option for putting students to sleep:-)

  4. Hi Patrik, I love your idea of using the whiteboard from time to time. I suspect my students would find it novel and interesting because most lecturers rely almost completely on presentation slides to deliver their content. I have used the whiteboard on occasion but your post has motivated me to use it more often from now on. I think that it would be especially useful for an ethics course that I teach to science and engineering students where some things are best written out “live” during class.

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