My students think they are all part of some new generation of supermultitaskers. I’m having a hard time trying to dissuade them from this notion.
Scientific American published an issue almost a year ago called, “Top Multitaskers Help Explain How Brain Juggle Thoughts” describing a very small percentage of the population as supermultitaskers who remain efficient and error free while juggling several tasks at once. I believe the number was 2 percent of the population who carry this “super-ability”. Yup, my students think they’re in this 2 percent.
Every year I try to explain to my students they are not efficient at multi-tasking and shouldn’t be texting while engaged in more complex thought processes (I like to think that’s most of the time in my class), they vehemently argue with me that they are “special” and can do it all. To prove to them that they are inefficient at multi-tasking I do a couple of simple tests with them at which they always fail, but they continue to dismiss the evidence. I’ve shown them “The Monkey Business Illusion” video in which they either see the gorilla and get the number of passes wrong or get the number of passes right and don’t see the gorilla. Still, they refuse to believe the evidence. If you’re not sure of the video I’m talking about, look it up on Youtube-but keep in mind, you’re not supposed to know anything about a gorilla in advance and I’ve already planted the idea in your head so it doesn’t count-sorry for the spoiler.
I’ve also done another little test with them that Dr. Meyer from Michigan State University tried out on me when I interviewed him a couple years back. I have a student count as fast as he (or she) can from 1 to 10 and time him. Then, I have him say the alphabet from A to J as fast as possible while timing him. Then, I have him go back and forth between the number and the letter from A1 and on, timing him. On average, it take three times as long than if he had just stuck with the one task at a time. This is a simple way of introducing the concept. The first task is easy because it’s singular and automatic and doesn’t require complex processing. I make the point that anytime you have unconnected pieces of information floating around in the head by trying to process two separate tasks of relative complexity (no automation), errors and time consumption go up.
“Nah Miss. Let me try again. I’ll be faster next time”. Notwithstanding that the activity becomes automatic with repetitive practice, again, my students don’t want to believe multi-tasking is ineffective. Maybe because someone out there has been spreading rumours that this generation is special and can do it all (ahem-Don Tapscott and others). Scientific evidence proves this is wrong time and time again, regardless of age or conditioning.
One way I have got students using cell phones in class (they still think of this as multi-tasking, though it really isn’t), is by having them tweet while we watch educational videos in class. I give them a framework-post a question, post a comment/statement, and post a response. The bits and pieces of thoughts floating around are “connected” to the activity we are doing. The punching of keys on the cell phone is automatic. All complex processing is reserved for the formation of ideas, questions and comprehension of the topic. This is not a true form of multi-tasking, though many people confuse it as such. Again, true multi-tasking is juggling pieces of information from “different and separate” complex processes.
Here’s the other advantage to tweeting while viewing-it gets them away from the temptation of texting their friends about off-topic conversations since they’re active and engaged in a singular task. In a sense, this is cuing their attention and teaching them how to focus in an appropriate and healthy manner.