Multi-task with a Purpose

I’m not the strongest blogger. I honestly struggle with writing posts. Most times they just seem, to me, to be so thin and inconsequential. I’ve been told that some of my best posts/comments take place in a few Ning networks that are supporting some local initiatives that I am a part of. So, I decided to share a snippet of one comment I wrote in response to the topic “Learning 2.0”. The following was in response to a colleagues comment on how students have the ability to multi-task.

I think we have to really look at what purposeful multitasking looks like. If the student is using SMS, IM, MySpace, etc. while doing homework, are they using them to accomplish the work before them or are they just distractions to make it more enjoyable? I would argue this is a very common thing. Is this good? I guess the skill of dividing attention is okay, but not when the tasks are disparate.

Without learning how to construct and synergize information into meaningful knowledge, hypothesis or questions are students simply a feather in the wind? I think there are those that are more effective multi-taskers and those that are simply distracted. Understanding the difference is important.

Take Twitter, once someone gets an understanding of how it works and how to leverage it, they can use it during the day to solicit information from their network, while they accomplish another task. That’s multitasking, but it has a purpose. We had a saying when I was coaching… move with purpose. Maybe we should “multi-task with a purpose.”

So this is where I ask what your take is… how do you multi-task? What ways have you seen purposeful multi-tasking by students?

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5 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I think I am a mixture. At school I have 8-10 tabs open. Igoogle to keep up though twitter is blocked at school and we are not allowed to have phones on. (I still have not mastered twitter either – are there hints someone can give?). Also have the gradebook web open, the email, my wiki, the ning, blogmeister, search pages as I am working on things at any moment/checking facts. Sorry that is long, you get the picture.

    I would have to agree with you. If the kids encounter something tough, many do not think to go search for information. Only a precious few will have the tabs open for things they are working on. In school they multitask by working on a couple assignments at one time. Interesting and maybe something to just discuss often with children or just model. As the next big unit is still being formulated, this is a good time to focus on perfecting that skill.

  2. The trouble I find is I am now used to multitasking so when I am expected to not mutlitask I have trouble focusing. It is like trying to make me run on one cylinder which doesn’t feel nice. So I can understand how draining it must feel to students who are used to a high level of multitasking; if you ask them not to.

  3. The ability to multi-task has become laudable. Unfortunately at times, multi-tasking means not giving any one task the attention it needs and deserves. For instance, today I was working on a curriculum plan, taking a phone call, texting on skype, eating a yogurt and signing time cards. It dawned on me that my chances of making a mistake were very high. I agree that multi-tasking is just fine if it is purposeful and intentional. We need to teach our student how to intertwine resources simultaneously while keeping their focus on the task at hand. Your example of twitter made me think about what I did when I couldn’t wrap my head around an algebraic equation…I called a friend, who walked me through the problem. That was purposeful multi-tasking. Kids have moved beyond a phone call to a friend, and can seek answers electronically…purposeful multi-tasking!

  4. lmaine, I think it is more difficult to multi-task in a classroom for educators. Our primary job is to facilitate learning. At anytime you can also find my browser full of open tabs. I wonder, how do we model purposeful multi-tasking? Most of mine is isolated when I am working alone. You mentioned Twitter… here’s a link that might help… Twitter

    Sue, I found your comment very interesting here. Reflecting back, I believe I have similar feelings sometimes and I can also believe this may be something our students experience on a regular basis in our schools. Often times in a presentation I will be listening and engaged in web searches or backchannel chats about the information being presented!

    Jen, thanks for your comment (always nice to have a local read your stuff). Thanks also for increasing my vocabulary. 🙂 (I had to look up the word “laudable”.)

    If I am not purposeful in my tasks then I become very distracted. This is mainly why I chose to write about this topic. We are very, very busy people. Many small interruptions prevent us from getting into a “flow” state with our work. I try to leverage technology so that it increases/enhances “flow” states.

    Thank you all for your comments.

  5. “I think it is more difficult to multi-task in a classroom for educators.”
    That depends on what type of multi tasking you mean. I think classroom teachers are the master multi taskers…Maintaining class order, thinking about what you are doing/saying, thinking about how what you are doing/saying is going to relate to what you will be doing/saying in the next five minutes, keeping the kid who is nodding off focused…
    Most classroom teachers are so good at it they don’t know they are doing it. Perhaps when they try to stretch too far out of thier comfort zone it may become obvious. I think being able to multi task successfully means that you are so good, comfortable with the multiple tasks that you can actually attend to both.
    I think its important to realize when one of the tasks is suffering from lack of attention. Put the distractor aside for a few moments and pick it back up when you have enough mental capacity to attend to more things.
    I too am trying to leverage technology to increase the frequency of flow states.

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