Douglas Rushkoff, who has been famous for writing and conducting research about the internet, assisted Frontline’s staff with documenting their video on the evolution of a digital nation: Frontline: Digital Nation . Rushkoff visited students and interviewed several professors from universities all over the United States to get some insight on what others thought about the 21st century’s movement with technology. Frontline also had the opportunity to cover this movement outside of the US and have front row seats during some research studies and uses of technology. As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but to relate everything to myself and my experiences with technology.
The first chapter of Frontline: Digital Nation was called “Distracted by everything” and it addressed the happenings of, ideas and research studies on multi-tasking. Frontline decided to take a look at the students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T) on this matter. Everywhere on M.I.T.’s campus there were students looking at multiple screens. I laughed when they discussed this kind of multitasking as I sat at a computer watching the video, taking notes with my iPad, and checking alerts on my phone. A few students addressed the topic. They expressed how hard it was for them not to multitask. It was important to them to take care of their school work, as well as keeping up with everything else that was happening in their lives. One student explained that peers could be sitting at a table having a conversation and many of the participants may fade in and out of the discussion to check emails or their phones. He explained that students did not get offended by this and that they understood this behavior. Well, the teachers at M.I. T. had a different perspective on the multitasking.
Teachers talked about the struggle they have with keeping students engaged in the classroom. M.I.T. allows students to have laptops in the classroom under the teacher’s discretion. This permitting puts pressure on the professors to stimulate students enough so that they are not on the web or engaging in other technology tools during lessons. Sherry Turkle, who has been teaching for 25 years, says that “students need to be stimulated more than they did before”. “Students are doing a disservice to themselves by drinking the Kool-Aid and believing that a multitasking learning environment will serve their best purposes,” she exclaims. She goes on to say that there are more important things that have to be done when it’s still and cannot be done in conjunction with 15 other things.
Another professor had the same take on this issue. He gave students a midterm, in which he gave obvious questions and expected students to do extremely well on it; the students didn’t do very well at all. He states: You can test students on two things: How well they are paying attention during class and how well they are absorbing information during assigned reading.” This professor experienced that students weren’t doing well at either. He expresses that he doesn’t think that students aren’t doing well because they are not smart, but because they are distracted by everything else.
Research also supported the notion that multitasking is not as beneficial to students as they think it is. Rushkoff also visited Stanford University, where he observed a study on the brains of “multitaskers”. Professor Clifford Nass conducted a research study on a carefully chosen group of students who were known as “chronic multitaskers.” The study examined how fast students could identify numbers that were odd or even and letters that were vowels or consonants while switching tasks. The study showed that students’ performance was slower when they switched activities than when they were doing something consistently. Professor Nass states that multitaskers think they are very good at multitasking but are actually terrible at every aspect of multitasking; their memory is disorganized. Even classic psychology says we can’t multitask. He expresses his concerns: “I worry that we are creating people who are unable to think well and clearly!”
I will admit that I am not that great at multitasking, as it often times seems. The idea of multitasking, reminds me of my ED 554: Technology in the classroom course. I experienced many classes of being overwhelmed with everything that was going on around me; everyone was doing different things. Many of the times, my professor would be giving us a tutorial of a technology tool or presented us with PowerPoints related to technology. We were all stationed at a computer. We were either expected to following along on our computers, write comments using a technology tool, or sign up for a program. I could not keep up half of the time and found myself being the last to leave the computer lab every session.
Multitasking, like most of the topics regarding technology, is very controversial. Although, research implies that it is not effective, how can we cut back on multi-tasking in a world that requires it? I have even seen job descriptions that have “the ability to multitask” as a requirement. The way that we learn and perform is different today because the expectations the world has for us have changed. We are expected to take on many roles and different jobs that are restricted by time. In a lot of ways, we are almost forced to multitask. So how do we combat this issue? This topic requires further exploration of research and ideas on dealing with multitasking. This will definitely take some time to get it under control and hopefully by then, multitasking will not be too far out of reach.
I encourage readers to watch Frontline: Digital Nation. The video goes on to cover a gaming epidemic in South Korea, how Korea has put systems in place to combat PC addiction and teach students to use technology responsibly, some strategies and tools to meet students where they are with technology, the growth of virtual worlds, and how the US army uses technology for war and combating post-traumatic stress. The video provides viewers with all kinds of perspectives on the digital movement. I started off watching the video with worry about how technology might change our world; I started my technology class the same way. But after completing the film and completing my technology course, I now think that technology will serve different purposes for different people. It may turn out bad for some and great for others. The way that an individual uses technology will impact the turnout. I think that Sherry Turkle (M.I.T. professor) said it best:
“Technology challenges us to assert our human values which mean that first of all, we have to figure out what they are and that’s not easy. Technology isn’t good or bad, it is powerful and it’s complicated. Take advantage of what it can do, learn what it can do, but also ask what it is doing to us. We’re going to slowly, slowly find our balance but it’s going to take time!”