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Fed up with multi-tasking students?

On Tuesday, CTLT program staff attended a Student Engagement Techniques Faculty Workshop by Elizabeth Barkley along with 20+ ISU faculty members.  One of the comments that repeatedly came up in the workshop was that students nowadays are so distracted by their electronic gadgets and multitasking whenever they can that they are not paying attention in class or when they are doing assignments.  I know this came up in the ISUTeach listserv and CTLT events before, so it’s nothing really new. Although  faculty have suggested a number of ideas to minimize this in class, students still multi-task in their home, dorm rooms and everywhere..  One of the suggestions that came up at my small group table was to share research findings about ineffectiveness of multitasking.  Basically, multi-taskers think they can multitask, but numerous researches show that participants did not complete tasks very well when they were asked to juggle two tasks simultaneously.  You may have heard from elsewhere already, but the results show that the quality of neither tasks are good and that it takes longer for participants to complete the tasks when people worked on two tasks at the same time.

Multitasking was also one of the heavily discussed topics at the conference I attended last month, Learning and Brain Conference.  It was fascinating to learn about the effect of multitasking on learning.  I knew about the ineffectiveness of multitasking before attending the conference, but there are several ideas that were very new to me and I hope to share this with faculty in the near future (watch for workshop or events on this topic in the future!).  In this blog, I’d like to share insight I gained from the most fascinating presentation by Dr. Nass from Stanford University.  He illustrated the conclusion of his study with this short clip.  Watch this and see how you do…

Dr. Nass stated that chronic high multi-taskers (people who habitually multi-task) were likely to spot the gorilla but to fail to count the correct number of pass.  He and his colleagues conducted experiment with several different tasks and the result indicated that heavy multi-taskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant information and slow in task-switching  – which is actually equal to the common notion of “multitasking”  i.e. brain can handle only one task at a time so multi-taskers are usually quickly switching between tasks, instead of doing them simultaneously.  So what does this mean to our students and learning?  When students multi-task habitually, they will become likely to pay attention to irrelevant information and will not be able to pay attention to the things that they are supposed.

Maybe you can run this video with your multi-tasking students and see how they do.  At least, it might serve as a good starting point of conversation about how habitual multi-tasking may harm them. d  Just a side note, I showed this video to my multi-tasking 10-year-old daughter and she counted the correct number of passes and noticed the gorilla – oh, well, I guess my experiment did not help me illustrate my point to her…