Friday, May 3, 2013

Destroy Multi-Tasking...

Here are some of my favorite student statements:

"I'm just better at writing essays than objective tests." 
"I don't need to take notes"

and my favorite...

"why can't I use my phone/ laptop / mp3 player/ ?.  I can multi-task."

Uh, no, you can't.  And study after study continues to back this up.  A recent article on Slate drives this point home.

Do you tweet?
2/3 of the time, students in the study, when left to their own devices, used their own devices (mp3, phone, etc) with horrific results for comprehension, retention, etc.

This has certainly been my discovery in 10 years of teaching.  I don't want to disparage the attention span of an average 9th grader, but... well...

But where charming Dory gives it her full attention, Students today give the world the opposite of their full attention.  My own anecdotal observations confirm this:  ALL my "MOST" Successful students never have their phone, mp3 player, etc. out.  Never.  

The key to this is that you need to actually focus for chunks of time.  And checking your FB stream while trying to do calculus is a bad move.

“Young people have a wildly inflated idea of how many things they can attend to at once, and this demonstration helps drive the point home: If you’re paying attention to your phone, you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in class.” Larry Rosen, California State University–Dominguez Hills

But the problem is greater than just in the class room.  PBS, in a Frontline piece entitled Digital Nation  covers the issues here.  In general, we find that self-described "multi-taskers" are usually bad at everything.  Texting while you drive isn't multi-tasking.  It's Russian roulette.  I guess it's more like Russian Roulette on a skateboard.  Well it's more like talking on the phone while you drive. (Insert Dory pic here).  But I've seen people read the paper when driving, etc.  

Stating that "I'm a good multi-tasker" for an adult is just as bad as for a child.  Tailing off in mid-sentence to text, FB, IM, is common amongst even my friends.  I think a cool study would be to test the perceived time of gaps in conversations when people pause in conversations to use media vs. actual time.  

Hypothesis: People who are texting grossly underestimate how much time it takes answering a text takes out of a conversation with a friend.

As an educator, I can monitor technology usage: But can I "Teach it?"  How do I get a student to internalize this lesson, and put away the phone when they are studying.  How do I get them to see the value of turning off the technology when they are in school?

The scariest thing for me is that my school's plan is to get MORE technology.  The plan is for a chrome book for every kid in the future.  I think that access to technology for an American is as important as access to tools for a carpenter.  But (old curmudgeonly simile here), just as you don't give a power saw to a novice laborer, you don't give unfettered internet access to a teenager and say, "just use this for a shared google doc project on tropical fish."

Morrison Luke Smith
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