I watched Digital Nation on PBS last night and found it troubling and enlightening. One of the key points was that we are not as good at multi-tasking as we think we are. We feel that we are in control of all of the information that is flowing over us, but a study done with MIT students showed that while they believed that they worked as well when doing multiple tasks – reading, answering their phone, sending a Tweet – they really weren’t. There was a measurable difference in their ability to perform the tasks they were given.
After having spent the weekend at Educon, where everyone had a phone or computer in their hand at all times, it made me wonder. Did we each take away as much from this fabulous conference as we could have? Did our gadgets get in the way of our learning without our knowing it? We were working on the presumption that the tools were adding to our experience, when in fact they may not have been.
I went to a workshop on Back-Channeling, the practice of carrying on conversations on Twitter or through other tools, while listening to a lecture. There are clearly some uses that totally support a student’s learning, such as using Edmodo to have students post their reactions to a movie as it is showing or providing a means for the shyer students to express an opinion. I wonder though if carrying on multiple conversations actually adds to the learning.
Just because we can have multiple conversations, does that mean that we should? Should we be encouraging our students to multi-task? Or should we be training them to focus their brains in a single direction?
Given how devoted to multi-tasking all of us are, the task of maintaining focus may be the next great challenge for our students, both in their work and in their social lives. There is no benefit in supporting them being like hummingbirds who flit from one flower to the next. They need to develop the tools to be creative and to think deeply.