A professor started a bit of a storm, arguing that American students largely have poor skills/discipline when compared with students from other countries. Well, since I work in Canada these days, I guess I cannot really attest to this, but it seems to me that this prof is guilty of a basic fallacy--letting the examples of some students confirm her expectations about an entire group--Americans. My students at McGill do range from phenomenal to not so much, and some do use facebook and other distractions in class. Thus far, I have not been able to tell whether there is a language bias (Francophone vs Anglophone) in the attention spans nor a bias of any other kind. I have found two cases of severe plagiarism, both by students coming from outside North America. Does that mean that students from Europe and elsewhere do not understand or care about North American norms? Or does it mean that North Americans are better at plagiarism? Probably neither.
It is certainly the case that there is something here--that students of today are more distracted than in the past--because they have to work to pay for school, because technology has perhaps created a bit of an ADD kind of multitasking tendency, and because they are more likely to ask for exceptions, extensions and the like for all kinds of reasons (not just dead grandmothers.).
I do think there are some trends over time, but we are also often guilt of "these kids today" syndrome. These are the kinds of things where I could really appreciate some statistics, because anecdotal evidence here is sketchy at best.