On Being Distracted (Updated)

I’m posting this as I was in the middle of answering 40 emails and putting the media player on pause. The WHI links follow an excellent interview with T. David Gordon on this very problem. I was particularly struck by his struggle to regain his classroom from computer-distracted students.

Long-time readers of this space may remember that has been a topic of concern here too. Nothing I’ve experienced since 2007, when I first addressed this, has changed my mind. Students are more distracted by phones and laptops/notebook computers not less so. Thus, I continue to exhort them each semester to try setting aside their computers in favor of listening to what is being said.

Here are some related posts:

Computers in Classroom: Not All They’re Cracked Up to Be?

Computers in the Classroom (pt 2)

More on Computers in the Classroom

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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  1. Some people are just really good at multi-tasking!

    Sent from my iPhone while driving, eating food and changing radio stations

  2. And here I was doing some other work when @nwbingham’s tweet about this post popped up via tweetdeck, and I was oddly compelled to see what it might be about. 🙂

  3. I agree, 3 years of seminary with no laptop teaches you to keep notes short and sweet. While guys where adjusting their font size and trying to insert a diagram in their Word document, I was able to focus on the lecture.

  4. I am thankful to have finished my classroom years in the pre-laptop era. After much trial and error, I developed the skill of note-taking to a very high level. Sometimes notes were “short and sweet,” sometimes extensive, depending on the material and its relation to textbook assignments. I had an arsenal of symbols at my disposal (arcane to others, crystal-clear to me) to use “on the fly” to guide me in further research or review. Long before before a test, I would distill and summarize the raw notes at least twice. Studying for a test eventually became a simple matter of a couple of more passes through content I’d already mastered.

    I’ve often wondered if I would have been as successful with a laptop or iPad. I suppose the key is always concentration, not the tools at your disposal. I pity the poor student today, distracted by text messages, e-mail, WiFi, and dozens of other files tempting him. Then as now, the student must commit to total focus on the task at hand. (There’s something in the Bible about that, isn’t it?)

    I will reveal one deep, dark secret: During one boring moment in an early-morning seminar at this year’s PCA General Assembly, I admit to checking the Heidelblog on my BlackBerry. My notes for the seminar seem a little garbled now. At least I wasn’t reading the entertainment section at foxnews.com.

    –FWA, PCA Ruling Elder, Hattiesburg, MS

  5. There is nothing worse than attempting to carry on a conversation with someone who is clearly focused on something else – cell phone texting, a computer e-mail, a television program, a selection of music of some sort to which they are sub-audibly mumbling the lyrics. Unless they have an unusually gifted mental capacity they’re obviously not listening to you and cannot be comprehending what you are saying.

    I can’t imagine what it must be like to be teaching a classroom full of students who are otherwise occupied in some manner. Especially when someone raises a hand to ask for an explanation of something you just finished explaining.

    • George,

      Those questions don’t get answered.

      Students know that abusing a computer in my classroom, if I catch them, is a serious offense. I’ve been known to wander to the back of the classroom to see what students are doing with their computers.

      Presently, generally, there’s no wireless internet access in most of the classrooms. Sometimes, in some conditions, students can pick up the signal in the library.


  6. There is no question that many students “abuse” their computer in the classroom. As a person who got a laptop halfway through seminary though, I am quite thankful for the easily accessible and searchable lecture notes that I now have for many classes, and saddened that I don’t have similar notes for the classes I took pre-laptop.

  7. I can’t imagine the mentality of paying for seminary and actually physically attending and then “checking out” during lecture or otherwise occupying yourself. Very odd.

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