Just Tasking

I let my students use their devices in class. "Let" is the wrong word. They use them. I don't mind. My reasoning to arrive at this method is simple.

I take notes with devices. I correlate information with devices. Sometimes I am in a meeting or session where I use my judgement and decide that a.) I don't want or need to be completely present in the current subject and b.) it wouldn't be rude in the present situation to dip in and out of the stream.

My wife was recently lamenting many current college students' tendency to miss lots of information in class, whether they are texting or not. "There's no such thing as multitasking!" she exclaims.

It's true. There are many problems with ascribing characteristics of computers to people, especially if they are not really accurate when referring to computers. This multitasking thing, it doesn't really happen unless you start adding extra brains (processor cores). Otherwise, what you have is an illusion of a machine doing multiple operations. It's actually doing one thing at a time, giving it 100% focus, and then switching to another task based on a set of rules or acquired expertise.

That last bit is important. The rules, the acquired expertise, these things allow you to know what you need to be focusing on. I know well where to sink my attention to get a film done, versus building a class, versus being a dad. Being in a conference session versus solving an administrative problem. But because I know when to focus, it can make it seem like I'm multitasking. I'm not. It's just tasking. "How do you get it all done?" There is no "all." There is only "this."

But how to know which "this" at which time? I think this is where students have problems. Because of the illusion that multitasking is real, because of these wonderful devices that they have always had, they may think they themselves can multitask as well. But without the expertise to know when they can switch from one "this" to another "this," critical mistakes can happen.

Here is a core competency we are missing. Not visual literacy, not media literacy, not technological literacy... not literacy at all. We need to instill an intuitive understanding of how we work best and how we learn best. And importantly, this is almost certainly not how we think we work and learn best.