This week my students related to me how an assignment I designed to take 15 minutes took as long as 45-60 minutes. After some questions from me and responses from them, I discovered that most of my students (probably 75% of them) text, instant message, or use the internet while completing their homework. Of course, I said to them “no wonder it takes you so long. You’re distracted.” And of course, they tell me “we’re multi-tasking.”
Coincidentally, this month’s neatoday has an article all about multi-tasking focusing on three myths about multi-tasking. They are:
- Multi-tasking saves time,
- Mutli-tasked learning is as good as single-task learning, and
- Multi-tasking [is the] forte of the young.
To me, these seemed obvious and common sense, but I guess not.
Last year when my students mentioned that multi-tasking and distractions are not a factor I had my students read “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. For those of you unfamiliar with this short story, it takes place in the future with attempts being made to make everyone equal by requiring “handicaps” be placed on those with advantages over others. For example, beautiful people have to wear items like masks and goofy noses making them less pretty while very strong people have to wear heavy bags of bird shot, and intelligent people have to wear devices making loud noises to interrupt their thoughts.
I then divided the class in half with one group reading out in the hallway and the other group staying in class to read. However, I prearranged to get a bit of help from my TA and my neighbor’s two TAs for a little experiment. Those in the hall read uninterrupted while my TAs had assigned duties: one had to bang on my table loudly five times every minute, one had to clap her hands three times every thirty seconds, and the last one had to ring a bell every forty seconds.
Of course, the students were quite surprised at first, then annoyed, and finally frustrated as the hallway group finished first, and I stopped everyone to take a quiz. I got all sorts of complaints about the distractions, so I stopped the conversation with one simple statement: “So you’re saying distractions make assignments take longer?” They then got the point about multi-tasking, and we didn’t take the quiz.
I can’t say for sure that I changed anyone’s habits, but I did make my point. Still, I didn’t get any more complaints about homework time and we read a great story, so I consider that in itself a victory even if a small one. 🙂