Students are fighting back against the distractions of social media and staying focused on their schoolwork thanks to apps and programs on their smartphones and computers.
Distractions are becoming more present with the continued rise of Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, according to a 2013 study from Baylor University. The study showed students spend a daily average of over 527 minutes (nearly nine hours) on their phones, splitting their time across phone calls, emails, text messages and social media. Many have noted that this intense usage is affecting productivity both in and out of the classroom.
BYU psychology and neuroscience associate professor Brock Kirwan has looked at the effects of technology use in the classroom. He believes the novelty of tweets and posts can become addicting and make it hard to concentrate.
“The brain has a big response to novel things that you’ve never seen before,” Kirwan said. “We’re always looking for some new thing. If you’re trying to sustain attention on a topic for a good long time, it’s really difficult.”
However, there are many applications and programs designed to help users focus. One of these applications is Stop Procrastinating, a website blocker that stops users from accessing YouTube, Facebook and similar sites.
Stop Procrastinating senior researcher Stephen Bennett said students have embraced Stop Procrastinating because it gives them control over the way they use the internet.
“They can try to use their own will power, but that often isn’t enough,” Bennett said in an email. “Having a piece of software that locks you away from the internet deals quickly with the problem and it is that reason why students love Stop Procrastinating so much.”
Stop Procrastinating has three levels of internet blocking. It can completely shut down an internet connection for a specified time period or until the computer reboots. Users can also block specific websites instead of completely eliminating the internet and even set goals before using the application, motivating them to accomplish something during their study time.
Kirwan believes setting goals is important in combating distractions.
“As you accomplish these things, that’s a rewarding process,” Kirwan said.
He also praised applications like Pocket Points, where students on campus can lock their phones and earn points that eventually add up to coupons and discounts at local restaurants and stores.
“I think that these sorts of things are a good idea,” Kirwan said. “We’re really good at responding to incentives. You’re going to do the thing that you’re rewarded for.”
BYU junior and accounting major Zach Herlin started using Pocket Points earlier this year. He said it was the rewards that got him interested in using the app, but he’s also seen it benefit him in class.
“I’m a pretty goal-oriented person,” Herlin said. “When I look at the Pocket Points app I see different goals that I can hit or rewards that I can achieve, and so I feel like that’s more of the motivation for me. As a side result, I’m also doing better in school or paying better attention in class.”
Herlin has also made use of some of his phone’s built-in features to eliminate distractions, like turning on the Do Not Disturb mode and flipping his phone over to hide the screen.
Students have a variety of options when it comes to time-saving apps. For instance, iOS app Moment tracks how often users are on their iPhones and iPads, even allowing them to set limits. Other popular apps like Spotify offer study and focus playlists that help drown out distractions. Kirwan said music can be a powerful tool to help get work done.
“I listen to music while I’m working,” Kirwan said. “If it’s just classical music or music that I’ve had in my library for 20 years – something that’s able to fade into the background and is fairly constant – then I can use that to keep me from being distracted.”
The goal of these applications is to boost productivity by minimizing the daily demands of social media.
“It means they can get more study done without spending hours being distracted,” Bennett said. “This means their concentration is higher, their work better quality, and they’ll have more time for other activities outside of study.”