Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Multitasking = multifailing

We've talked here at ISW about students using technology in the classroom and how to address the issues that arise therein. But increasingly, the research shows that such technological multitasking inhibits learning -- no matter what tech savvy students say to the contrary!

From a teaching note at my campus' faculty center:
Don't believe it when students argue that they can pay attention to what's happening in class and supplement the class material as they surf through the internet. Research is abundantly clear that people cannot pay productive attention multiple cognitive inputs at one time. “Heavy” media multitaskers, or people who frequently pay attention to multiple media inputs at once, are particularly bad both at paying attention to the multiple inputs and recognizing that they are not paying attention.

Some students argue that having other stimuli, such as music or tv in the background, helps them to concentrate on a task at hand. This may be true, but in a limited way: If the stimulus does not compete cognitively with the task at hand, it may be helpful in improving mood and time on task. So if students want to listen to music while doing their calculus homework, and it works for them, great – but reading texts while they're supposed to be reading and writing about what is going on in class, not great at all.

The ultimate result of paying poor attention is poor memory, which equates to poor learning. If a person does not pay attention to something, there is no way he can learn it.

So how do we sell multitasking students on the idea that they're not just distracting others and annoying their instructors — they're actually shortchanging themselves?

1 comment:

  1. You could demonstrate to them that they are shortchanging themselves by asking them a specific question about the material you just covered and when they are unable to answer it, their lack of attention should be clear to them.
    Although in their mind, they may believe this is just time management, and they will review the material you just covered later. But if they are reading say, the previous classes topic, in each following class, their focus is always split.

    Perhaps it should be stressed that one learns and retains the most and gets the most benefit when their focus is completely on a single topic. When all their learning senses are being utilized together, audible, tactile, visual, sociological, etc. They learn and retain the most this way. When their attention is spit, they also lose the value that the "structure" of the course provides.

    Perhaps they could even be asked to demonstrate the ability to teach the topic. It would be expected that their teaching ability wouldn't be the same as one who has studied the methods of teaching, but if they have been learning the material and paying full attention, at least a thorough explanation of the topic should be easily demonstratable.

    You could also give a quick lesson on the pros and cons of multitasking. - http://www.oxfordlearning.com/letstalk/2008/jul/25/multitask-or-not/


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