Time and Attention: Students, Sessions, and Tasks

Andrew Arnold, Richard Scheines, Joseph E. Beck, and Bill Jerome

Students in two classes in the fall of 2004 making extensive use of online courseware were logged as they visited over 500 different “learning pages” which varied in length and in difficulty. We computed the time spent on each page by each student during each session they were logged in. We then modeled the time spent for a particular visit as a function of the page itself, the session, and the student. Surprisingly, the average time a student spent on learning pages (over their whole course experience) was of almost no value in predicting how long they would spend on a given page, even controlling for the session and page difficulty. The page itself was highly predictive, but so was the average time spent on learning pages in a given session. This indicates that local considerations, e.g., mood, deadline proximity, etc., play a much greater role in determining student pace and attention than do intrinsic student traits. We also consider the average time spent on learning pages as a function of the time of semester. Students spent less time on pages later in the semester, even for more demanding material.


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