Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dr. Faulkner on Multi-tasking

At the risk of sounding like Gomer Pyle, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”  (You young folks can Google Gomer.)  A recent $439,000 study by Michigan State University found that multi-tasking in class on non-academic activities lowers test scores of all students – even the smartest. The article which appeared in the September issue of Computers and Education looked at non-academic Internet use in an introductory psychology class with 500 students.  The study found that irrespective of intellectual ability, as measured by ACT scores, “attention to distracting information reduces memory performance.”

This confirms what many of us have long suspected – students aren’t paying attention.  I remember in elementary school being prohibited from chewing gum because it distracted from learning.  I don’t really believe that is true, but it is certainly the case that the multiple devices ubiquitous in our classrooms detract from learning if not used appropriately.  This also disproves the contention by students that because they are digital natives they can learn and play at the same time.

Contrary to what you might suspect, the authors do not suggest banning the use of mobile devices in class.  It would be “nearly impossible.”  Instead they suggest that we develop a culture of personal responsibility to educate students to avoid distraction in the same way we remind people to not text and drive.

Another goal of the research was to explain “why unexciting information is more likely to be forgotten. . .” To me that is also a no-brainer.  If it is boring then it doesn’t get attention and without attention there is no memory formed.  This should serve as a challenge to all of us to make our efforts memorable.  I’m not suggesting you stack BBs while standing on your head, but we could all ask how our teaching could be more engaging.

-Dr. Jerry Faulkner

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