Wednesday, August 1, 2012
The conventional wisdom has always been that students can only pay attention for ten to fifteen minutes before their minds start to wander. A new study by a professor at Kennesaw State University who used eye-tracking technology to study student attention patterns says that's all wrong. Whether students are paying attention to the teacher is not due to the pre-wired characteristics of the brain but instead depends on where they are sitting in class. You won't be surprised to hear that, according to the study, students sitting in the front of the class pay more attention than those sitting in the back.
From the Chronicle of Higher Ed:
The study, conducted by David Rosengrant, an assistant professor of physics education at Kennesaw State University, found no pattern in when students become distracted. Instead, students’ focus waxes and wanes throughout a lecture and is strongly affected by factors such as where in the lecture hall the student is sitting.
. . . .Over all, though, a student’s location in the classroom was an enormous factor affecting whether the student was on task, he said.
“The students who were in the front and center of the room really were on task much more than the students in the back of the room,” Mr. Rosengrant said. A variety of reasons account for that pattern, he said. Students at the sides of the room are more likely to have to crane their necks to see the board, which is tiring, while students at the back are often distracted by the visible computer screens of those sitting in front of them.
One surprise was that students spend only 30 percent of their on-task time looking at the professor, though interest in the professor increased when he drew something on the board or went over quiz answers. When off task, students were most likely to be on Facebook or texting. Other causes of distraction were students’ entering or leaving the classroom.
“I thought the students would really spend a large majority of the time focused on me because I’m the instructor, I’m talking,” he said. “But I really found out a lot of the time that though students were paying attention and they were on task, most of the time was spent looking at the board and looking at their own notes. They didn’t spend as much time looking at me as I thought they would.”
Read the full article here.