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Gingersnap
03-04-2010, 04:21 PM
Divided Attention

In an age of classroom multitasking, scholars probe the nature of learning and memory

By David Glenn

Imagine that driving across town, you've fallen into a reverie, meditating on lost loves or calculating your next tax payments. You're so distracted that you rear-end the car in front of you at 10 miles an hour. You probably think: Damn. My fault. My mind just wasn't there.

By contrast, imagine that you drive across town in a state of mild exhilaration, multitasking on your way to a sales meeting. You're drinking coffee and talking to your boss on a cellphone, practicing your pitch. You cause an identical accident. You've heard all the warnings about cellphones and driving—but on a gut level, this wreck might bewilder you in a way that the first scenario didn't. Wasn't I operating at peak alertness just then? Your brain had been aroused to perform several tasks, and you had an illusory sense that you must be performing them well.

That illusion of competence is one of the things that worry scholars who study attention, cognition, and the classroom. Students' minds have been wandering since the dawn of education. But until recently—so the worry goes—students at least knew when they had checked out. A student today who moves his attention rapid-fire from text-messaging to the lecture to Facebook to note-taking and back again may walk away from the class feeling buzzed and alert, with a sense that he has absorbed much more of the lesson than he actually has.

"Heavy multitaskers are often extremely confident in their abilities," says Clifford I. Nass, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. "But there's evidence that those people are actually worse at multitasking than most people."

Indeed, last summer Nass and two colleagues published a study that found that self-described multitaskers performed much worse on cognitive and memory tasks that involved distraction than did people who said they preferred to focus on single tasks. Nass says he was surprised at the result: He had expected the multitaskers to perform better on at least some elements of the test. But no. The study was yet another piece of evidence for the unwisdom of multitasking.

Experiments like that one have added fuel to the perpetual debate about whether laptops should be allowed in classrooms. But that is just one small, prosaic part of this terrain. Nass and other scholars of attention and alertness say their work has the potential to illuminate unsettled questions about the nature of learning, memory, and intelligence.

More at the link. I've never had any illusions about this. I don't multitask unless I'm doing something so deeply ingrained and lacking in intellectual challenge that it requires literally no thought. I might mow the lawn and rehearse a presentation in my mind but that's it.

The Chronicle Review (http://chronicle.com/article/Scholars-Turn-Their-Attention/63746/)

PoliCon
03-04-2010, 04:48 PM
More at the link. I've never had any illusions about this. I don't multitask unless I'm doing something so deeply ingrained and lacking in intellectual challenge that it requires literally no thought. I might mow the lawn and rehearse a presentation in my mind but that's it.

The Chronicle Review (http://chronicle.com/article/Scholars-Turn-Their-Attention/63746/)

Multitasking only works when one of the tasks being done is deeply ingrained and/or mindless.

Gingersnap
03-04-2010, 04:58 PM
Multitasking only works when one of the tasks being done is deeply ingrained and/or mindless.

I must know dozens of women who pride themselves on their multitasking skills. Having sat and watched them perform, I can only describe the scene as a slow motion train wreck. If you need to talk to your kid, talk to your kid. If you need to organize travel arrangements to Sumatra - do that. If it's time to read your email, then read it. Just don't try to do all of that at once.

When I see someone juggling several tasks at once I automatically think that I'm either looking at the receptionist or looking at someone who can't do time management.

lacarnut
03-04-2010, 05:12 PM
My Audit Supervisor in the Sales Tax Section could write a letter ruling and talk to a taxpayer on the phone about a completely different tax issue at the same time. She would blow me away when I saw her doing that. These letter ruling had the effect of law and could be used as evidence in tax court.

PoliCon
03-04-2010, 06:11 PM
I must know dozens of women who pride themselves on their multitasking skills. Having sat and watched them perform, I can only describe the scene as a slow motion train wreck. If you need to talk to your kid, talk to your kid. If you need to organize travel arrangements to Sumatra - do that. If it's time to read your email, then read it. Just don't try to do all of that at once.

When I see someone juggling several tasks at once I automatically think that I'm either looking at the receptionist or looking at someone who can't do time management.

Like I said - it only works when one of the tasks can be done mindlessly. In fact, that's one of the few times I'm willing to multitask - when I'm doing a task that requires very little thought I'm going to find some other task I can do at the same time to keep me for losing my mind to boredom.

Rockntractor
03-04-2010, 06:20 PM
My Audit Supervisor in the Sales Tax Section could write a letter ruling and talk to a taxpayer on the phone about a completely different tax issue at the same time. She would blow me away when I saw her doing that. These letter ruling had the effect of law and could be used as evidence in tax court.

That to me is amazing! I can't talk and program the microwave at the same time.

lacarnut
03-04-2010, 06:35 PM
That to me is amazing! I can't talk and program the microwave at the same time.

I think she had a photographic memory cause she could quote hundreds of statues out of the sales tax law book word for word. People that smart piss me off. The Department went to pot when she retired.

Gingersnap
03-04-2010, 09:10 PM
I think she had a photographic memory cause she could quote hundreds of statues out of the sales tax law book word for word. People that smart piss me off. The Department went to pot when she retired.

I don't doubt it. I knew a guy who could cram his fist in his mouth after a couple drinks. That doesn't mean that most of us could (or should) do it.

In my field, multitasking is just considered illusionary. Alpha geeks more or less pride themselves on focusing so hard on a task that they have to be physically removed from their stations during a fire. ;)

PoliCon
03-04-2010, 09:17 PM
alpha geek? Is that anything like a Geek Goddess?

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3245/2510609961_4391655a2c.jpg

Lager
03-04-2010, 09:19 PM
We fool ourselves when thinking that when today's children try to do homework while listening to an Ipod, texting one friend and posting on facebook to another, they are really exhibiting a new and valuable skill or ability which will help them thrive in the new information age. The bottom line is that a distraction is simply distraction, which means getting somewhat involved in many things, while getting fully involved in nothing.

Gingersnap
03-04-2010, 09:25 PM
alpha geek? Is that anything like a Geek Goddess?

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3245/2510609961_4391655a2c.jpg

I didn't really authorize that pic for public distribution. :mad:



:D

Rockntractor
03-04-2010, 09:25 PM
alpha geek? Is that anything like a Geek Goddess?

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3245/2510609961_4391655a2c.jpg

Nom nom nom!!:D

Gingersnap
03-04-2010, 10:14 PM
Nom nom nom!!:D

You know that I can actually nuke your house from orbit using my alpha geek skilz, right? :p

Rockntractor
03-04-2010, 10:16 PM
You know that I can actually nuke your house from orbit using my alpha geek skilz, right? :p
You are a kind and benevolent evil genius!:D

Gingersnap
03-04-2010, 10:19 PM
You are a kind and benevolent evil genius!:D

And attractive. :mad:

Rockntractor
03-04-2010, 10:21 PM
And attractive. :mad:

If that pick is you, smokin friggen make me crazy hot!

Gingersnap
03-04-2010, 10:27 PM
If that pick is you, smokin friggen make me crazy hot!

You can go now. :cool:

Elspeth
03-04-2010, 10:33 PM
Sorry to interrupt the love fest but thank you so much, Ginger, for posting this story. I always thought that multi-tasking was a crock.

Gingersnap
03-04-2010, 10:50 PM
Sorry to interrupt the love fest but thank you so much, Ginger, for posting this story. I always thought that multi-tasking was a crock.

You aren't interrupting anything (because I'm focused on the actual content).

It is a crock. If humans were designed to function efficiently on a wide number of tasks, we'd know this by now.

There is zero evidence in neuroscience that we can effectively divide attention over a number of things. On the contrary, studies show that environmentally important tasks (crying babies, screams, that hot guy two rows over) demand instant and total attention. Other tasks (algebra, pastry-making, your taxes) demand focused, singular attention to perform efficiently.

Milly
03-04-2010, 11:18 PM
On the other hand, it is possible to alternate short tasks effectively. I tidy up the kitchen and do the dishes while I'm baking cookies, for example. This form of multi-tasking actually works.

Articulate_Ape
03-05-2010, 12:14 AM
Just for the record I am doing eight things at the same time right now, and one of them is secret.

PoliCon
03-05-2010, 12:15 AM
Just for the record I am doing eight things at the same time right now, and one of them is secret.

http://rlv.zcache.com/i_see_what_you_did_there_poster-p228060760404242422t5wm_400.jpg

Articulate_Ape
03-05-2010, 12:21 AM
Then I will have to kill you.

Rockntractor
03-05-2010, 12:22 AM
Just for the record I am doing eight things at the same time right now, and one of them is secret.

http://i686.photobucket.com/albums/vv230/upyourstruly/8fbbc734.jpg?t=1267766410

Articulate_Ape
03-05-2010, 12:27 AM
http://i531.photobucket.com/albums/dd359/JamesSavant/CHIMPERO.jpg

PoliCon
03-05-2010, 12:39 AM
http://i531.photobucket.com/albums/dd359/JamesSavant/CHIMPERO.jpg

http://www.t-chest.co.uk/2005/images/whatever-happy-bunny.gif

Gingersnap
03-05-2010, 12:40 AM
On the other hand, it is possible to alternate short tasks effectively. I tidy up the kitchen and do the dishes while I'm baking cookies, for example. This form of multi-tasking actually works.

That's not multitasking - it's time management.

I went to undergrad at a Catholic college that still had actual sisters (or former sisters). My Logic prof had seen, been, or done it all across the globe. She was not happy about the "progressive" direction her order took. She was, however, literally scary smart. She told me in Independent Study on math something I've never forgotten.

"Use every 10 minutes you have."

At first I thought this was stupid - what can you do in 10 minutes? In the convent, back in the day, apparently everything. She was right. Ten minutes of just about anything done 5 times a day makes a BIG difference.

I started using all those "10 minutes" at school and later at work and later still in my "real life". It's crazy what you can do with just 10 focused minutes.