Multi-untasking

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User-ASE-BusyLast week I ran across an article by Randolph E. Schmid that, judging from the google search I just did, made its way all around the networks [here it is at the Huffington Post] but I still find fascinating.  People who multitask don’t do it very well.

The article describes how they tested this, and below is one of my favorite quotes, in which study-guy Clifford Nass described the outcome of one of the experiments  in which the participants looked at red and blue rectangles [that’s the Math part of this post] and then had to determine if the red ones had moved, ignoring anything about the blue rectangles.  They thought high multitaskers would be good at this:

But they’re not. They’re worse. They’re much worse….They couldn’t ignore stuff that doesn’t matter. They love stuff that doesn’t matter.

(I love that last line.)

In other tests the high multitaskers couldn’t organize information as well as others, and were the same as far as memory goes.  In the last test people had to identify letters and vowels or consonants and numbers as even or odd [that’s the Bonus Math part of this post], but it turns out that high multitaskers had a lot of trouble switching between the two tasks, despite what one would think is constant practice of changing focus.

I’m not sure what to do with this information, and no doubt it needs further study yadda yadda yadda.  But I found the concept fascinating as far as teaching goes, and I’m still left wondering what high multitaskers are good at.  Maybe nothing, but I believe deep down inside that multitasking must provide some skills.  Or maybe I’m just hoping.

3 Responses to “Multi-untasking”

  1. Sue Says:

    I thought I was a multi-tasker, but I’m not by their definition! They counted how many media people used simultaneously! Interesting…

  2. Ξ Says:

    Sue, yes, I noticed that as well. It’s not so unusual for me to have two (I’m working on my computer while we watch a movie, for example) but what’s more common for me is to have several windows open on my computer and to multitask that way [Right now I’ve got my email program open, and this blog, and a window for looking up a student’s email address, and a homework assignment from a student that I’m looking at, and Windows Media because I’m listening to John McCutcheon, and two windows for some committee work that I’ve got open. But technically I think this is all considered just one piece of media, so I’d be counted as a low multitasker.]

  3. MariaD Says:

    “I’m not sure what to do with this information” – I plan to ignore it. Success is highly task-specific, and lab tasks such as watching blue squares move or not move have nothing to do with any of my tasks.

    This reminds me of the time someone repeated Piaget quantity conservation experiments using the context kids actually cared about (candy vs. counters) and got dramatically different results. Or the Hoyles and Noss studies of nurses (zero errors on the ward, 30% errors on standardized tests).

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