Before reading these articles, I didn’t think multi-tasking was really a bad thing.  Certainly if an important task is at hand, I see the value in focusing and thereby reducing distracting stimulus, however, where, when, and what kind of multi-tasking takes place must be considered.  In Konnikova’s blog Multitasking Masters (2014), she states, “In 2010, the National Safety Council estimated that twenty-eight per cent of all deaths and accidents on highways were the result of drivers on their phones.”  That makes me cringe!  So, of course, people need to focus on driving and not their phones.  Obviously, this problem is well studied and laws are in place in an effort to stop this behavior.  But, what about multi-tasking when using multiple forms of technology while sitting in the comfort of your home when safety is not an issue?

In Keim’s blog Is Multi-tasking Bad For Us? (2012), he states, “The brains of teenagers—those perhaps most addicted to multitasking—are still developing and are thus vulnerable to any ill effects the behavior may have.”   I would argue that teenagers seek the stimulus because this developmental stage in human beings is the time to practice the management of multiple stimuli.  I believe the survival of the species depended on it.

In the modern world, the society that we live in demands a citizenry that needs a high level of education to exist.  The system of education that is currently available for teenagers may address the needs of our complex society, but does this system address the natural urges and tendencies of teens at this  developmental stage?  Most often, this system asks students to sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher.  And, not just once, but 5 to 6 times in one day.  Boring!  Certainly, innovative educators are striving to create more interactive and participatory education, but the overall system is still based on this model.  However, teens have found their innate need for exaggerated stimulus in the form of a variety of technological tools with millions of applications.  And, they flock to this stimulus as soon as they are out of class.   I have three teenagers and I know the way it works – checking texts while glancing at the TV while watching videos from their favorite YouTube Channel on the iPad.  Maybe they have the laptop open as well to check Facebook.  It happens.

Keim (2012) also stated, “High multitaskers were bad at filtering irrelevant information from relevant, something that, one might suppose, a multitasker should be especially good at.”  He mentions that researchers used the infamous ‘Gorilla Test’ to show that multi-taskers were better at paying attention to non-relevant information.  For fun, I went to the site of the original researchers, Chabris and Simons at  http://www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/videos.html and took the test.  I had done the test before and saw the gorilla walking through easily this time.  Years ago, the first time I took the test, I had absolutely no idea and had a hard time believing it.  Today, I also had my multi-tasking teen take the test and he didn’t see the gorilla at all the first time.  He was very focused on the task (counting the passes).  I would like to see more about the study Keim is referencing before agreeing with the claim that multi-tasking teens focus on irrelevant stimulus, hence multi-tasking is bad.

In my opinion, the goal of the educational technologist is to design and develop instruction that will harness the urge for stimulus..  Maybe the current studies show that multi-tasking is not good for memory, but I’m back to asking what kind of multi-tasking?  Multi-tasking with technology for teenagers is not a bad thing.  Certainly, it’s filling a very strong need or it would not be so widespread.  As an educational technologist, I would like to find out more about harnessing the power of this strong desire to multi-task and find out ways to incorporate it into learning.

 

Konnikova, M. (2014, May 7). Multitask masters. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/multitask-masters

 

Keim, B. (2012). Is Multitasking Bad for us? Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/is-multitasking-bad.html

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