As 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.