“Encourage multitasking, [both] computer-based and physical, [by] having them switch from one activity to another quickly, or trying to solve multiple problems simultaneously,” he said. “This relates to their working style, but [it] can also help to emphasize that there are times when you need to concentrate on one thing at a time.”
Not everyone would agree that multitasking is a healthy attribute of today’s students. A Stanford University study released last year found that high-tech jugglers have problems paying attention, controlling their memory, or switching from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.
The study, “Cognitive control in media multitaskers,” published last August in the academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability.
Rosen said there are a few things about that study that bothered him. First, it was a laboratory study that asked participants to perform tasks no one would do outside a laboratory setting. Second, it used a relatively small sample size (41 students).
“This is quite a small sample to be drawing general conclusions about multitaskers,” Rosen said, adding: “What is needed is in vivo studies.” He said other research has suggested multitaskers take slightly longer to learn information but do not necessarily perform worse on exams.
In his book, Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn, Rosen suggests, among many other things, that educators should begin to use cell phones as tools for mobile learning.
“If I were going to do a lecture on [President] Chester Arthur in a room full of kids where most likely all of them have cell phones and many of them have some type of smart phone, I would split them into groups and ask the students to find information about him,” he said. “I would let the kids get engaged with the information. Then I would ask them to do something like create a Facebook or MySpace page based on that information.”
Petroski also recommended encouraging group work, because social networking is such a large part of students’ daily lives.
“Encourage group work … in the classroom through collaborative group work that supports individual activities. Use games as teaching and learning tools,” he added. “Yes, review quizzes can be engaging, but consider using games and simulations as a way to teach concepts through hands-on learning, not just as a way to review concepts taught in a traditional sense.”
Other recommendations that Rosen makes in his book include allowing students to generate original content online as part of lessons; teaching students which media sources to trust and which to avoid; and using the internet to help provide a global perspective.
One problem with today’s multitasking iGeners “is that they spend more time gathering information in breadth rather than depth,” Rosen acknowledged, “and I think this is an issue for educators.” Teachers must teach media literacy and the difference between superficial gathering of information and deeper understanding, he said.
“But after all,” he added, “isn’t that the challenge for all educators?”