Oct 24, 2020
Dmitriy Ivanov

Assumption Prof. Lang Publishes Book on Distracted Learning

By Joel Rosario ’24

James M. Lang, Ph.D., professor of English and director of the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence, recently published a book about combating distracted learning environments.

Professor Lang’s book, Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It, focuses on ways educators can modify their teaching methods and structure their classroom to be a more focused environment for their easily distracted, technology-obsessed students. According to Prof. Lang, such environments can actively cultivate students’ attention.

“In recent years, a debate has been raging in higher education about whether we should ban electronic devices from the classroom, because they have the potential to distract students,” said Prof. Lang. “My goal in writing the book was first to help people understand that distractions have always been present in the classroom. Once we recognize that, we can then try and find solutions that will work not only for today’s digital distractions, but for education more generally, now and in the future.”

Prof. Lang said his research led him to a long tradition of writers who discuss the idea of distractible minds, including Augustine, “who describes how easily he can be distracted from his prayers by the sight of a lizard catching a fly or a dog chasing a rabbit,” he explained “We need to turn our thinking in a positive direction and focus instead on the positive role that attention can play in our lives and our learning, and consider what behaviors and situations maximize attention. Learning does not happen without attention, so teachers need to make it a priority in their thinking about their practice.” 

Prof. Lang has written several books that tackle issues within education including Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning; Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty; Life on the Tenure Track; and On Course. He is a frequent contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education and editor of West Virginia University Press’s Teaching and Learning in Higher Education series.