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Could Checking Facebook in Class Help Students Focus?

A psychology professor says allowing students "tech breaks" actually helps them focus on on academics.

Technology is all the rage in 21st-century schools—campuses are scrambling to buy iPads and other hardware, and teachers are incorporating everything from gaming to Twitter in their lessons. But concern is growing about the potential negative impact of so much screen time and social media. Cal State Dominguez Hills psychology professor Larry Rosen is among those who worry that students are becoming addicted to all the apps and gadgets at their disposal. At a recent Hechinger Institute seminar, he said the average person is so distracted by technology that they're unable to stay focused on a task for even three minutes.

That finding has dire implications for students' ability to learn at every education level. Instead of paying attention in class, "Kids are thinking all the time, 'Oh my god, who texted me? What’s on Facebook?'" Rosen told the group, according to the Hechinger Report.

Does that mean schools should strip classrooms of technology, or ban students from using it for non-educational purposes during the school day? Not exactly. Rosen’s research points to an idea that might help educators manage technological distractions effectively: Allow students to use technology freely for a set amount of time.

It may sound counterintuitive to use technology—the very thing that's so distracting—to help students focus, but Rosen says his tech break concept "works amazingly." For every half-hour of focused work, he recommends allowing a 15-minute tech break. Once a students sees that nothing is happening on Facebook or send a friend that critical text message—they're able to refocus, he says.

The problem is that schools and colleges aren't set up to accommodate tech breaks, no matter how effective they are. A professor teaching an hour-long economics class isn't going to tack on two 15-minute breaks for students to play Angry Birds or tweet. Middle and high school schedules are equally inflexible, and they're further constricted by state-mandated curricula.

But technological distractions aren't going away any time soon, so it might not be a bad idea for teachers and professors to give students a mini-break—just a minute or two—to text or check their email every once in awhile. It might not be the ideal solution, but if it helps tech-addicted students refocus on what's going on, it's worth a shot.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Zawezome

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