Multitasking or Half-Listening?

We are living in a society where technology is the driving force of how we live, and this age has become known as the Digital Age. I argue that today’s day and age should be called the Digital Age of Multitasking, as my experiences working with adolescents and adults (my focus groups for this response) prove that we are constantly being pulled in several directions for multiple reasons. I challenged myself to think outside the box for this assignment, but felt that putting my opinions into a blog post was the most appropriate format to express my views via text, video, and online sources. I want my audience to be able to see what I see and agree/disagree with the points I make and the resources found.

In the PBS video, “Is Technology Wiring Teens to Have Better Brains?” Miles O’Brien sits down with a teenage girl and observes how she interacts with technology, and notices that it creates more of a distraction than it does an actual aid. The female student can be seen sifting through her school work (a physics lab and essay) as well as toggling between Facebook and Gmail chats.  Although this video didn’t exactly get me to think any differently or change my views, took me back to an article I read last year on multitasking, “Brain Interrupted.” In this article Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson state that multitasking is more of a misnomer; ”…the person juggling e-mail, text messaging, Facebook and a meeting is really doing something called “rapid toggling between tasks,” and is engaged in constant context switching.” Sullivan and Thompson conducted a test where subjects simulated the pull of an expected interruption (email, chat, text) while reading a passage and answering questions about it. Subjects were told that they may be contacted during the test via instant message; these subjects who were interrupted, compared to the test takers who were not, answered correctly 20% less often than others in the group who were not interrupted.

I chose this article as one of my focus points on multitasking because I see this in my experiences every day at school. I work in a classroom where there are 24 computers available. My class is a project based class, where students have create different projects using an array of skills based on the current subject area we are working on. It amazes me that even though students have these computers in front of them, that it is not enough. I walk around and check my students’ work in progress frequently, and notice students have their cell phones out on the desk station ready to check any message or notification that comes their way. Some also listen to music as they work, which creates another distraction because if a song comes on that they do not like, they have to pick up their phone and physically change the song, taking them away from the work at hand. I also see this in the hallway as I walk by students as they are passing to class. Majority of these students have their device out, sifting through content on their phone, most of the time listening to music. Most times when I greet a student as they walk by, I do not get the greeting returned, most likely because they are engaged well into what they are doing on their phone. Ellen Degeneres does a good job explaining to her audience what multitasking is and the implications it has on her and her viewers.

Technology has completely changed the way students learn and interact both in education and in society. Paper and pencil have become device and social learning platform. The same is true for adults. Our lives our pushed and pulled in many directions, especially being in a graduate program with a full-time job. We have to balance that and our personal lives. I find it extremely challenging at times to balance my work, coursework, and personal life, calling for me to plan in advance when I get certain things done.

As I was creating my response for this assignment, I noticed how distracted I was as well. I found myself reading and watching the sources posted by Reggina and Mike while I watched football with my wife, in between checking my phone for recent texts from one of my best friends who just had his first baby girl. As I was preparing for this response, I also had to update our own baby registry to include some more items we may need for “Baby V” this January. As I was doing all of this, I knew that multitasking had to be my focal point of this response. Adults can be just as distracted as adolescents can, we just know how to work with the technology and balance better because we have more experience with it. Adults tend to “half listen” just as adolescents do; Stephen Colbert discusses and models this in his segment on multitasking.

In addition to my previous musings on multitasking, this year I have made it a point to alter my instructional pedagogy and tweak my communication modes from more of a presenter of information to facilitator and communicator of information. In the past, I was the teacher to stand in front of the room and teach directly to my audience in a one size fits all format. After much reflection, I made it an objective to completely revamp how I teach and communicate information to my students.

This year, I adopted Meriden’s motto of “taking charge of student learning.” In my class, I record lessons and post them to our class content management site, Moodle. Here, students can see what the assignments and projects are for the current lesson, and go at their own pace. This differentiates how students learn and the pace at which they learn. Some students like to use my recordings as a way to learn, others like to go the traditional route and use the text as their main resource. The other way students like to learn is to do our hands-on lesson together, with me modeling how to perform certain tasks on the board with them in real-time. This format allows students who are more proficient to go at their own pace, and for students who find some skills more challenging to do it with me to seek immediate feedback.

The way I have set up my class this year fosters a multitasking approach to learning, as students have to have multiple windows open (PowerSchool, Moodle, Word/Excel). I ask students to always have Moodle open so that they can refer to it for page numbers in the Word or Excel text for their assignments. I ask that they have PowerSchool open so that they can always see where they stand in class from a grade standpoint. Students need to learn how to multitask effectively given the age we are in, and I believe that adopting this method of instruction truly fosters an authentic learning environment and prepares students for life outside of the classroom. Our students are going to be pulled in twice as many directions once they reach our age; it is our job to prepare them for this reality, and to be well-balanced and prepared for when these times come.

-John V


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