Using deliberate mistakes to heighten student attention

Abey P. Philip, Dawn Bennett

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


    Attracting and retaining students’ attention is a concern for educators at every level of education, including those in higher education. Despite compelling evidence that student-centred pedagogies enhance attention, motivation and learning gain, exposition-centred delivery in forms such as lectures persists across higher education. Contemporary research on student attention suggests that student concentration in class begins to wane within 10 minutes; that neither tutorials or lectures tend to engage students effectively; and that the optimum length of a lecture is as little as 30 minutes. Where previous studies of student attention have focussed on the impacts of active listening, flipped classrooms and authentic assessment, the exploratory study reported here sought to determine the impact of a “deliberate mistake strategy” (DMS). The study engaged 103 undergraduate business students who self-assessed their attention span before and after a DMS was employed within their semester-long unit. Analysis of the students’ self-report involved paired sample t-tests and revealed that students’ attention span had increased significantly as the result of their engagement in DMS; there were no significant gendered differences. Cohen’s d revealed a large effect size with students reporting that DMS had helped them to increase their perceived attention span when in class. Amid continued debate about how to engage students and growing realisation that multiple approaches are needed, the findings suggests that the use of a simple strategy such as DMS merits further attention. Practitioner Notes 1. Lessening mind wondering or lack of attention among students demands action by both instructors and students. 2. A deliberate mistake strategy heightens student attention and consciousness with little preparation work for instructors and no additional technology demands. 3. Students need both attention (as analyser) and consciousness (as synthesiser) to spot deliberate mistakes, and they enjoy the challenge. 4. A deliberate mistake strategy has particular relevance in content-heavy and/or long classes such as traditional lectures.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number13
    Pages (from-to)193-212
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of University Teaching and Learning Practice
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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