won’t allow it. While I would love
to be able sit and work on one thing
from start to finish, I can’t just ignore all my phone calls, emails, and
other requests. We are all expected
to be constantly accessible and connected, so we have no choice but
to multitask. Because of the sheer
amount of tools and content available to our students, they face a similar overload, now and in the future,
and knowing how to multitask is a
vitally important part of being able
to handle it all.
To efficiently multitask, we need to
be able to critically identify the most
important task for that instant, taking
into account both work and personal
factors, and work on that task until
something more important arises,
even if that important something is
switching to another task while your
current task develops in your head.
Crucial to multitasking is developing
By developing the ability to quickly jump between tasks, students are
honing the very skills they need to successfully navigate an inundation of
the analytic and critical thinking
needed to be able to, in a split second, identify if you should continue
working on that current task or
switch to something new. The only
way to gain these skills is through
practice—something that teenagers
are getting in spades. By developing
the ability to quickly jump between
tasks, students are honing the very
skills they need to successfully navigate an inundation of information.
It is easy for even a seasoned professional to get buried under work and
data, so it’s important to build the
skills to be able to filter it effectively.
Granted, a big problem is that
many teens’ priorities are not the
same as many adults. They are
still learning how to easily switch
between tasks to something that is
more important, but sometimes talk-
ing to a friend is the most important
task to them. As technological lead-
ers and role models, it is up to us to
help students identify and hone their
critical-thinking skills so that they
can effectively use their time and be
successful later in life.
—A former K– 8 technology instructor, Chris
Stefanski is currently the associate director of
technology for the Paterson Diocesan Schools in
New Jersey, USA. He assists both principals and
teachers in helping the schools meet their educational technology needs.
and now we have the same expectations
for ourselves. Rather than prioritizing
and focusing on a particular task while
other minor tasks operate in the background, we now believe we should be
able to keep multiple processes running
equally and at the same time.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Earl Miller was
quoted in a 2008 National Public Radio
article ( www.npr.org/tablet/#story/?sto
ryId=95256794) stating, “For the most
part, humans can’t focus on more than
one thing at a time,” unlike computers,
which can run multiple processes with
all of the needed “focus” on each one.
He says that, instead, we “shift our focus
from one thing to another with astonishing speed.”
The crux of Miller’s explanation is its
emphasis on focus. While a computer
can blindly process multiple tasks, it is
incapable of being distracted. It isn’t listening to its environment. It can’t smell
something cooking in the kitchen. It
Humans can’t focus on more than one thing at a time, unlike
computers, which can run multiple processes with all of the
needed “focus” on each one.
doesn’t see pictures on a television. Human beings, on the other hand, are constantly taking in and processing information. We are the consummate input
device. We can’t shut off our senses. We
are able to make determinations about
what is important and what is extraneous noise, but that takes mental energy
too. That’s why we get distracted and
why we sometimes lack focus.
Educational psychology courses
teach us that classical music, vanilla,
and a view of the outdoors are all ben-eficical to learning. Yet if the music
is too loud, the smell is too strong,
or the sun is too bright, these inputs
can quickly become distracters. If this
is true, it’s no stretch to imagine the
impact that incoming text messages,
a yammering television, and an iPod
blaring music may have on focus.
To do something well, we must
be able to focus on that task and
delegate other inputs to appropriate,
lesser levels of awareness. The more
complex the task, the more focus
required. Driving a car is a great
example. Extensive research shows
the influence of drinking (which
impairs focus), texting, and other
distractions on one’s ability to drive.
Just transfer that analogy to learning. There’s no way students can do
it to their highest potential if their
attention is elsewhere.
—Dennis McElroy is an associate professor of
education and director of technology for the
Graceland University Gleazer School of Education in Lamoni, Iowa, USA. He formerly worked
as a high school science teacher, administrator,
and technology consultant for the Iowa Department of Education.