Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The longer teachers talks, the more students' minds wander

That's the conclusion of this study published in Applied Cognitive Science and available here (subscription required). Interestingly, the researchers note that most of the formal research on adult attention spans has involved people whose job it is to spend long periods of time staring at a screen like military radar operators. Little research has been done on the attention spans of college students or the effect of lectures on those attention spans. This study concluded that "mind wander" increases the longer the teacher lectures.  From the abstract:

Understanding the factors underlying variation in attentional state is critical in a number of domains. Here, we investigate the relation between time on task and mind wandering (i.e., a state of decoupled attention) in the context of a lecture. Lectures are the primary means of knowledge transmission in post secondary education rendering an understanding of attentional variations in lectures a pressing practical concern. We report two experiments wherein participants watched a video recorded lecture either alone (Experiment 1) or in a classroom context (Experiment 2). Participants responded to mind wandering probes at various times in the lecture in an effort to track variations in mind wandering over time. In addition, following the lecture, memory for the lecture material was tested. Results demonstrate that in a lecture mind wandering increases with time on task and memory for the lecture material decreases. In addition, there was a significant relation between mind wandering and memory for lecture material. Theoretical and practical applications of the present results are discussed.


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This is why we need to integrate interactive exercises into our classes.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Sep 1, 2011 9:42:54 AM

After reading the abstract, it's clear to me that the study has little bearing on live classroom instruction. The researchers used a videotaped lecture, and there was no opportunity for give and take between the students and the instructor. In the end, the only conclusion you can draw from the study is quite obvious: video lectures are a bad idea. I didn't need a study to tell me that.

Posted by: juris(prudence) | Sep 1, 2011 4:18:20 AM

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