"Call it multitasking homework, Generation 'Net style.We all know the scene: teen managing their MySpace, instant messaging, listening to music, sharing homework, and word processing all at the same time. This article from The Washington Post takes an interesting look at teenager multi-tasking.
The students who do it say multitasking makes them feel more productive and less stressed. Researchers aren't sure what the long-term impact will be because no studies have probed its effect on teenage development. But some fear that the penchant for flitting from task to task could have serious consequences on young people's ability to focus and develop analytical skills."
The article misleads though when they quote Jordan Grafman, chief of neuroscience at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke as saying,
"Introducing multitasking in younger kids in my opinion can be detrimental," he said. "One of the biggest problems about multitasking is that it's almost impossible to gain a depth of knowledge of any of the tasks you do while you're multitasking. And if it becomes normal to do, you'll likely be satisfied with very surface-level investigation and knowledge."
This quote has NOTHING to do with neurological disorder or stroke, yet by quoting him, the writer offers the impression that this could be a possibility. Is this even ethical? Lots of adults are saying the same thing...how can they be focusing? How can they be understanding? What purpose is their in getting this quote from the head of the Stroke Institute unless it is to imply that they think it's bad for teens' health (which they do not as far as I can tell)?
The article goes on to describe a study which indicated that scoring is similar on a card recall activity by those multi-tasking and those not. Interestingly again, it then goes on to offer that the multi-taskers seem to recall less detail.
"imaging showed that different parts of the brain were active depending on whether the subjects did single or multiple tasks. When subjects were focused on sorting, the hippocampus -- the part of the brain responsible for storing and recalling information -- was engaged. But when they were multitasking, that part of the brain was quiet and the part of the brain used to master repetitive skills -- the striatum -- was active."
Was recall part of the activity? Multitasking may shut off certain parts of the brain that are unnecesary, but could it be that good multi-tasking would have allowed for recall, if that were asked of the multi-tasker? Maybe the multi-tasking brain is effective because it can shut off what it doesn't need. I don't know the answer to this, but as I read this article I thought of how often we, digital immigrant, try to force our own hang-ups on digital native multi-taskers.
If students aren't getting to the depth of knowledge like they are "supposed" to, then perhaps that is because we aren't "asking" them to. If they can multi-task and get good grades, as the article suggests, then these students are doing what is being asked of them and doing it well.
Yet we then question the depth of their knowledge?
Is not the depth of their knowledge, dependent on what we ask them to know? And if our questions ask for depth, wouldn't that be an effective gauge for how well they can achieve that depth, while still multi-tasking? Maybe with thought-requiring questions, a student might drop some of those "tasks" and focus on the one...or maybe we'd find that their brains are in fact wired differently than ours and that they can think with depth while chatting with their friends.
Either way, I find it hard to blame the lack of depth in teens' knowledge on their own multi-tasking. No, that blame falls directly on us...their teachers. Let's give them something worth focusing on and then we can worry about how they get there.