Digital Distractions in the Virtual Classroom

We live in an era where diverse digital distractions and virtual vices clutch concentration, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that focus seems fuzzy. With most students having grown up with a phone, or mobile device in their hand, the bright stimulation of the flashing notifications and easy-scrolling is a comfort zone. And one with countless distractions. 

With the right strategies, structures and software in place, though, having students actively engaged in your virtual classroom is certainly more than achievable.

To combat the seventh challenge of the virtual classroom, we look at ways to capture your student’s attention and keep digital distractions at bay.

The challenges of keeping students engaged in a virtual class

Social media and instant messaging platforms are particularly problematic as they offer quick spikes of distracting engagement to the student, and interrupting their concentration during the lesson. To help manage digital distractions, it’s necessary to develop and maintain a structure in your virtual class which limits the use of social platforms and supports a student engaging with the learning material.

How to tell if students are engaged and working

It’s much easier to see whether a student is actively focused or distracted by their device in a physical class. In a virtual classroom, the tell-tale signs of distraction look slightly different, so it’s important to keep an eye out for the indicators of focused work (and more importantly, the lack thereof). It’s generally a good sign of engagement if they are:

  • Attentive, alert and able to follow along with the material.
  • Taking notes through collaborative and centralised note-taking software like a shared Google doc.
  • Asking questions and seeking more information with the content.
  • Answering and responding to questions.
  • Following requests quickly, without delay.
  • Reacting to things that might happen in the class (such as laughing, watching, or sharing their opinions).
  • Able to keep up with any rapid-fire questions about content recently covered.
  • Able to pass tests, assignments or quizzes set on material covered in the online lesson.

Simply put, the simplest indicator of a student’s focus is how readily they can participate in a task or engage with a new activity. If these signs are lacking, it’s important to establish a solution as quickly as possible. Gently encouraging good habits is critical and catching the distractions early on can set you up for consistent engaged, interactive classes.

How to deal with digital distractions in the virtual classroom

Collaborating with parents to reduce the use of unnecessary devices

In most physical classes, electronic devices that aren’t used for class, such as cellphones or personal tablets, are discouraged (or banned entirely). Setting similar rules in the virtual classroom can help reduce the number of digital distractions your students face. It’s difficult to monitor if twenty to thirty faces are looking at you from your screen and the quality isn’t great (and that’s not counting when some students have their screens turned off) so collaborating with parents is crucial.

Taking advantage of the good side of technology

There are fantastic ways to use technology in your favour. Aside from the necessity of software like Zoom or video conferences to conduct virtual classes, there are other platforms that can help keep students engaged and working on the right things. Breakout rooms are safe, virtual rooms where students can group themselves and work collaboratively on a project. This helps change up a lesson structure, engages students in discussion and alleviates the possible monotony of a lecture-like lesson. Most video conference platforms also offer features such as collaborative whiteboards, reactions and polls which encourages engagement and draws on the fun side of technology that digital-native students might be more familiar with.

Adding an extra pair of eyes to the virtual classroom

Keeping eyes on the prize, well, rather on the browsing habits of a student is impossible if there’s no software in place to help. Classroom management tools are invaluable in the oversight of a student’s device during class. Monitoring distracting tabs and refocusing a student can be as easy as clicking a button. 

Mobile Guardian’s classroom management software empowers teachers to view what students are doing on their screens during lessons with live screen views, as well as remotely close distracting tabs on a student’s browser. If students are working on a task in the virtual classroom and you can see distraction and unrest getting the best of them, you can also get their attention back with the Eyes Up feature to display a block screen and request that the student looks up. 

It’s also possible to review the class timeline to review and ensure all students were on the same page in the lesson and identify students which might need a little extra focus or help in a particular area.

If you’d like to discover more ways to overcome the challenges of the virtual classroom, see our blog post here.

Find out more about how you can use the right technology in your virtual classroom to diminish digital distractions with Mobile Guardian’s classroom management tools


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