Classroom Multitasking: Why Not? Well . . .

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Horse sense

Check out this article that discusses recent studies on student multitasking during class time. The studies provide some hard evidence that multitasking = diminished academic performance. So if you’re serious about being a good student, work on your powers of focusing on just one thing during class . . . class!

“Students Think They Can Multitask. Here’s Proof They Can’t” (Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Faculty Focus, 9/26/12).

Image via mrg. bz / hotblack

Related reading on this site:
7 Things Not to Do in College
Texting in Class: “Ill-Mannered” or NBD?
More Multitasking Murmurs . . .
How To Set the Stage for Effective Studying

Related reading around the web:

Texting in Class: “Ill-Mannered” or NBD?


textingAre you one of the student masses who texts while you’re sitting in class? Read on to find out more about this phenomenon, how college professors are reacting, and what you might need to consider as you prepare to enter those college classrooms yourself.

First, observe this recent commentary from The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Ill-Mannered Students Can Wreck More Than Your Lecture.” The piece is aimed at college professors, but note texting in the classroom is filed under “ill-mannered” student behavior. Here’s a quote:

“Now, the entire world via the Internet is a potential distraction—and with a cellphone, mp3 player, and laptop in almost every student’s possession, the temptation to become distracted (and thus to engage in discourteous classroom behavior) is overwhelming” (Joan Flaherty, “Ill-Mannered,” link above).

Using a gadget such as a cell phone to text is cast as a “distraction,” and further, is considered “discourteous.” Is that what all professors think? Well, based on my experience, conversations, and comments and articles I’ve read, I surmise electronic gadgets in the classroom are known elements. Instructors know students are fiddling with techie objects; they may or may not have explicit policies against it, but many frown on it. On the other hand, I know some instructors are using electronic gadgets as part of the class lessons: for instance, they may use Twitter or some kind of polling site in order to make class more interactive. If that’s the case with your class, then by all means embrace that technology as part of the learning experience.

In general, though, you’d do well to ponder these four points:

1)      Check the course syllabus’s policy on electronic devices in the classroom.
Such policies vary widely depending on campus and professor, but please note many courses will have explicit policies about your personal electronics in class. Some professors will forbid cell phone and even laptop use in class; some will ask you to leave or will mark you absent if they see you texting; some will simply factor your gadget use into the “participation” part of your grade. Why such policies? Because of the points below.

2)      Be aware that many professors consider texting in class to be flat-out rude.
We know texting is ubiquitous among American students: a recent Pew Internet study reports 95% of 18-24-year-olds have cell phones, and 97% of those young people text. And they text a lot: on average, they send or receive over 100 text messages per day (1). Texting inside the classroom seems to be quite common as well: one study shows 65% of college respondents report having sent at least one text during class; another study shows a whopping 91% have (2-3).

I’ve heard students are so attached to their phones, so accustomed to texting as a way of life, that they truly don’t realize texting in someone else’s presence is disrespectful or rude. But regardless of your intentions, and regardless of the idea that everyone seems to be doing it, and like it or not, here’s the message you send to the prof if you text during class:

“I do not want to be here. I have other, more important things to do than to pay attention to this class. Also, I am unable to delay techno-gratification for the 50 minutes the class is in session.”

You may say that you really don’t want to be in class (in which case you might consider delaying your college years until you are more goal-oriented); or that if the class is “boring,” you are entitled to mentally check out (an interesting line of thinking, but it is not taking responsibility for your own learning); or that you ARE able to pay attention to class whilst multitasking on the laptop or the phone. But behold the next point:

3)      Realize that multitasking is a myth!
Read more about the problems with multitasking here: “Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford study shows” (from Stanford University News, Adam Gorlick, 8/09), here, and here.

Basically, trying to do several things at once means you cannot effectively focus on anything. And in college classes you need to focus, because the material probably isn’t going to be easy-breezy. You may be sure you’re a good multitasker; even so, ask yourself honestly if, in the classroom where you’re attempting to multitask, you’d pass a pop quiz at any given time with flying colors. Also, if you’re currently allowed to text or web-browse with impunity, take the initiative to try a week in class without using gadgets. See how your notes and, after class, powers of recall improve.

4)      Be aware of other students in the room.
Gadgets can be distracting to your classmates (outside of a computer lab environment where everyone is clicking at the keyboard and every face reflects the bluish glow of screens). In fact, “distraction to others” is a major reason professors disallow gadgets in the classroom. You’re in a public space when you’re in class – you do need to be aware that at least some others around you likely find texting, Facebook visits, and general clicking away to be annoying and distracting.

Overall, remember that you are responsible for your own learning. No one else can learn for you, and if you’re attending class where ostensibly lessons are to be learned, why not put yourself in a position to maximize that time?

Image via / dharder


(1)                From “Americans and Text Messaging,” by Aaron Smith, 9/19/11. Pew Internet: Pew Internet & American Life Project, Pew Research Center.

(2)                “University Students Feel Guilty About Texting in Class, UNH Student Survey Shows,” University of New Hampshire Media Relations, 2/23/11.

(3)                “Wilkes University Professors Examine Use of Text Messaging in the College Classroom,” Wilkes University News, 11/29/10.

Regarding title: “NBD” = “no big deal.”

More Multitasking Murmurs…



Yesterday’s post discussed multitasking and how it affects the quality of study time.  Here are a couple of recent articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education that discuss multitasking within the classroom:

No Cellphone? No Internet? So Much Less Stress

From Professor Back to Student, With Complaint

(You can tell from the titles the tone they adopt; but in any case, they’re good reads for those headed to college or looking for ways to improve general academic performance.)

Image by Farai via Flickr

How To Set the Stage for Effective Studying


Closed red curtain at the Coolidge Corner Thea...

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In Prof. John Medina’s book Brain Rules, the author describes a scenario in which, after having been asked to tutor a friend’s teenaged son, he finds the student busy listening to music, downloading an image, playing a game, and chatting with friends . . . while simultaneously working on his homework assignment.

I’ve taught English at the college level for 10 years, and on one hand, this multitasking scene does not surprise me.  On the other hand, let’s say I never taught, never witnessed the apparent effects technology has had on students’ habits, and drew only from my own high school experience (waaay back in the cassette tape era when word processors were just starting to come around).  I think I’d be a little astonished at the multitasking homework scenario.  Why?  After all, “multitasking” has come to be the fashion in the working world, too: at least for those whose work is heavily at the computer.  Well–because for me, anyway, homework and studying always have required a pretty strong dose of concentration.  So I think I’d be asking, “How can that student concentrate?”

How interesting to read, in Brain Rules, that he can’t.  None of us can pay attention, truly, to several things at once – hence “multitasking” is not really possible (not at work, not in school, not behind the wheel).  An interesting link that illustrates:

Hence, if studying is regularly a frustrating event for you, try unplugging a few things and starting over with a more silent, less animated slate.

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