Students’ Attention Spans & Web Conferencing

By: Danielle Chazen



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Now that the number of students learning online has increased substantially, schools have been able to gather data and make informed decisions on tools that serve their students best. School leaders are also learning that these tools, such as web conferencing or video hosting platforms, may work well for one school or age group, but not for others.

As a result, schools are enlisting a variety of platforms, including Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate, GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx. Each platform presents different capabilities in fueling online learning. Yet despite each platform’s unique functionality, all educators are facing the same challenge: keeping the attention of remote students.

How can schools hold their students accountable, while also keeping in mind the organic challenges presented by the pandemic itself? These challenges are affecting all students, but especially those with specific learning needs.

Students with registered – and often unregistered – needs, such as those learning with ADHD, may be struggling even more than their peers. Yet, students who may not be diagnosed with attention deficit disorders are also facing trouble paying attention outside of the in-person classroom environments they’re accustomed to.

Students are learning in unforeseen times, and it’s not difficult to understand how students with attention deficit disorders – and those without them – are being triggered by the current climate and the array of worries it presents.
table set up with a notebook and pen, a glass of water, a laptop and a mobile phone

Ongoing distractions and differing needs of today’s students

The lack of in-person connections among students and their peers has presented significant communication issues. These problems can arise due to Wi-Fi connections, accents or from simply not being able to be in the same room as their teacher and peers.

One university student who struggles with ADHD due to a brain injury reported struggling with note taking while learning remotely.

“As I have ADHD, the main problem I struggle with when taking notes during lectures is, I spend far too long trying to write down what the lecturer is saying that I end up falling behind because they talk faster than I can write; my fine motor skills are badly affected by my brain injury.”

This student also reported having trouble differentiating between “the key points of information, and the filler bits.”

In the interim, this student is utilizing her mother and sister to help with note taking for lectures and assignments to keep her on track, however she noted that this is a tall order to ask of them long term. She was seeking a personal note taker or tool to be arranged while she was learning in lockdown.

Many students without brain injuries are still struggling to focus and get acclimated to the new way of learning. Technology can greatly help.
Apple accessories resting on a table with a notebook and pen

Helping schools address these challenges

A few months ago, we began helping institutions utilizing Zoom specifically for online learning by providing them with an application for live captions and interactive note taking tools within Zoom. This app, Live Room, has now been updated to work on all web conferencing platforms that schools are using.

The solution came about in helping to ensure schools were effectively delivering courses that comply with ADA requirements and formal student requests, but also sought to solve the ongoing issue of engagement.

Today’s students are struggling to pay attention, and the addition of closed captions and transcripts for note taking can significantly help them to focus while learning online, studies have shown.

Schools should consider increasing the engagement of students by adding captions to all of their videos and web conferencing platforms as a result.

Live Room by Verbit can help these students focus by providing them with choice, a core principle of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL). They can select to view live captions or a transcript in real-time, or view them side by side. In addition, our interactive transcripts can help students like the one mentioned above with highlighting and note taking features, as well as an ability to delay or speed up the transcript to stay on track at the student’s own pace.

These transcripts also allow for greater peer collaboration, with the ability to download or share transcripts and notes on-the-spot with peers.

In sum, students can use the help

Whether you have students with reported disabilities, such as hearing loss, or attention deficit disorders such as ADHD, all students can benefit from a little extra help in these times.

Note taking and captions as an additional visual aid can really help to ensure web conferencing platforms are working effectively to help remote students follow along. Tools like Live Room can be used to enhance students’ abilities to process information and stay focused during these challenging times.