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iPads and YouTube: Are digital tools in classrooms a student asset or distraction?

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Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

(Read caption) Digital search tools in the classroom are distracting, not aiding students from academics, according to 64 percent of teachers surveyed in a recent report by the Pew Internet Project. Here, a woman holds up an iPad after a news conference introducing a digital textbook service in New York.

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For a new report, the Pew Internet Project surveyed and held focus groups with more than 2,000 middle and high school teachers in the Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) communities and found that 77 percent feel “the Internet and digital search tools have had a ‘mostly positive’ impact on their students’ research habits, but 87 percent say these technologies are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’.”

Almost two-thirds of the teachers (64 percent) said today’s digital technologies ‘do more to distract students than to help them academically’.”

Many of the teachers surveyed are probably amazing educators – like the ones Matt Richtel of the New York Times interviewed for his coverage of the study: Hope Molina-Porter, who has taught for 14 years and cares enough about her students to adjust to changing conditions, and 4th-grade teacher Dave Mendell, who said “it was tougher to engage students, but that once they were engaged, they were just as able to solve problems and be creative as they had been in the past.”

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