Monday, December 6, 2010

The impact of multitasking on teaching and learning and thinking.

As I sit down to think about multitasking, I am struck by the gravity of my surroundings. I come here with the best of intentions, but if I allow myself to truly take a look around I begin to question that. I have 6 word documents open on my computer screen, my internet browser has 11 tabs open, and as I sit here, I am literally surrounded by stacks of paper and lists of things ‘to do’. All of this, in addition to my smart phone that is NEVER out of arms reach and the radio, which is playing through the queue of news stories that I have selected for the day. “What am I doing?!”, I think to myself, overwhelmed and almost forgetting what I am here to do. That thought comes to me a lot these days, “What am I doing?”

Multitasking has become a way of life for many of us, a constant state of being. The question isn’t whether we are multitasking – because we are, we have to be. The real question here is what that means for us in terms of thinking, learning, and teaching. Frontline recently produced two specials, one called “Growing up Online” and the follow-up entitled “Digital_Nation”, both looking at how dependant our society has become on technology, and how the mere speed with which we live our lives today can leave our heads spinning. 

 How can we reach children, how can we teach children, when we have so many obstacles blocking our way? 

In Digital_Nation, Doug Rushkoff, a technology journalist and narrator of part of the film, talks about what he thinks has changed as the Internet has evolved over the past 20 years. He says,“The net has changed from a thing one does to the way one lives, connected all the time”… “and it appears more kids then I would of thought, are overwhelmed”. 

Is it possible to find a medium between finding a high enough level of activity to keep children engaged and limiting the amount of stimulus so that learning can occur? Many of the data presented states that the ‘new’ generation is so fast paced, with such a short attention span they are no longer able to perform basic skills, i.e. reading a book. Multitasking has changed the way many students think and write; one researcher said that people no longer write essays, they write paragraphs, then take a break to facebook or to check their email, etc. and then they come back to it. People are no longer able to focus on a task until completion; we have short bursts of attention punctuated by a multitude of other tasks. I know this is how I function, but how will my classroom environment cater to this quality in my students? Should I stop mid-lesson, or mid-sentence, to and in little snipits to keep children engaged? Or should I allow for breaks every 5-10 minutes allowing for short attention spans to function?

I don’t know the answers, but I will do my best to accommodate students while pushing them to develop life skills that with aid them in their futures. I don't want to find myself standing in front of a classroom of students asking themselves, "What are we doing?".

The Frontline special: Digital_Nation can be found at

1 comment:

  1. Very well said! I like your introductory paragraph! I find myself asking that very same question, "What am I doing?" or usually, "What was I doing?" I'll get distracted by something and get up in the middle of, well any task. I could be doing dishes, talking to a friend, answering the phone, cooking, and doing laundry, while the dogs want their ball thrown. Then all of a sudden I stop and say, "What was I doing?" For awhile I dismissed it as I'm getting old, or just tired (all likely causes) but after watching the video, I may be a victim of "multitasking". You did a wonderful write-up and put a lot of reflective, personal thought into it! Nice job, Shannon!