Ever checked to see if your student is doing their homework only to find
them listening to music, chatting on their phone, checking their social
media sites and doing their homework at the same time?
Multitasking is the new reality that most teens have grown up with, but
does it mean that they are doing a number of tasks badly or are they actually
being more efficient? The answer to this question depends largely on the
individual learner and the kind of tasks they are performing.
The average student spends about seven hours a day using electronic devices
and 58% say they multitask while doing homework. Studies are ongoing as
to what the influence of multitasking and electronic devices will have
on cognitive and social development, but there are very practical ways
to measure whether multitasking has a positive or negative effect on your
student’s ability to study or do their homework.
A Stanford University study found that when students switch from one task
to another, it negatively affects their ability to think critically or
evaluate. Multitasking students were hampered when trying to discern which
information was vital and they had to reorient themselves whenever they
went back to a task which actually wasted more time than multitasking saved.
A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 47% of students who spent more
than 16 hours a day multitasking received lower grades (lower C’s)
than students who spent less time on electronic devices. While these examples
are extreme, there is evidence that the brain really isn’t very
good at juggling more than one or two tasks at a time. Professor Earl
Millar, an MIT neuroscientist, scanned volunteer’s brains as they
multitasked and found that only one or two of the visual stimulants could
activate the brain at any one given time.
This is especially true when we try to perform two tasks that use the same
areas of the brain. For example if you are trying to send a tweet while
writing an essay, your brain becomes overloaded and simply slows down.
Not all multitasking is bad.Some studies have shown that playing instrumental or classic music quietly in the background can
actually improve concentration and higher cognitive functioning while
having a number of sources of information open can help reduce the amount
of time students spend on research.
If multitasking is limited to two separate tasks that require different
parts of the brain, then it can be successfully accomplished. Limit the
number of distractions your students have and try to encourage them to
concentrate on one task at a time when they are studying or doing their homework.
Test this out for yourself! Conduct practical tests to see how your student
fares when multitasking. Set out a number of similar tasks like multiple
choice science questions or math problems. Get your student to do half
of them while multitasking and the other half while focusing on the task
at hand. Compare accuracy and time taken to establish what works best for them.