Students need to learn multi-tasking too

MultitaskingAs we are bombarded with interruptions from cell phone calls, email notifications and instant messaging alerts, we are forced to multi-task. I recently heard this subject discussed on the podcast Quirks and Quarks from the CBC. The show took a scientific, and even playful, look at multi-tasking.

Research has revealed that the average office worker only gets three minutes to focus on a single task before they are interrupted. The research has also shown that multi-tasking allows workers to finish their work in less time and without any affect on the quality. However, these same workers are experiencing higher levels of stress and frustration.

The show also explained that young people may be more successful at multi-tasking since they are getting more practice as they grow up in our digital world. But the researcher worries that people will not be able to think deeply about the work they’re doing.

The show has made me think about some new questions in regards to 21st century learning:

  • If our students will be expected to multi-task when they enter the workforce, how can teachers give them more experience doing this at school?
  • Since multi-tasking is leading to more stress, how can we help student keep their stress levels in check?
  • Should we be concerned about our students’ ability to think deeply about a topic?

When it comes to multi-tasking, I often think we’re giving students too much credit. We hear people describe our students as ‘digital natives’ who just know how to cope in today’s fast-paced and distraction-filled world. Yet, Quirks and Quarks made me question this entire notion. I grew up in a world that has always had cars. Did this make me an ‘automobile native?’ My grandfather was born when the world didn’t have cars. Did this make him an ‘automobile immigrant?’

I think we need to drop these buzzwords and focus on what is certain– new technologies bring new solutions and new problems. Multi-tasking has increased due to new technologies and they have also changed our daily environment. Just because this environment isn’t new to our students doesn’t mean that they don’t need to learn how to live successfully in it.

4 thoughts to “Students need to learn multi-tasking too”

  1. Nice post — I agree completely with your last paragraph. Today’s students may be more comfortable using technology, but that doesn’t mean that they can use it productively.

    My college students are in that gray area between the buzz word generations (digital natives vs. immigrants). All of them have cell phones, text each other regularly and most have Facebook accounts. However, they don’t consider themselves tech savvy. They struggle making effective powerpoint presentations, composing blogs, and rarely think about collaborating using wikis… They need good examples and lots of practice!

  2. I never had study halls when I was in school (too many electives and instrumental ensembles), but I imagine there are lots of examples of multitasking and teachable moments on these important skills. I have to wonder, though, how many teachers would be “on board” with allowing students to multitask during class as opposed to sitting at a desk, taking notes. (I know it sounds horrible, but it still happens way too often.)

  3. I couldn’t agree more. Too much multi-tasking leads to possible problems and much of the current multi-tasking that is happening is a result of new technologies and hyper-connectivity. So students need to learn to manage that. And, I expect, so do teachers. It is interesting that the study showed no decline in work quality. I am left to wonder what the work was? Was it paper-pushing, budgets, reports, etc… or was it creative work? Can one reach their creative potential while multi-tasking? Or do we all need to learn to step away, find some good space, unconnected space where we can think in our own minds even for just short periods of time?

  4. Interesting Article…

    One aspect one should take care of is how he deals with this pressure caused by being “multi-tasked” in certain second, If he trained him self to relax and take a deep breath every minute or though, He will be more productive and will be in even better mood.

    I second that… The research results is interesting, But IMO, when people start to learn how to do things, they should give a full attention to it, They are now able to to their work in multi-tasked way without affecting the quality because one day when they first learnt how to do it… They learnt it the right way by giving their full attention and focus.

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