"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Multitasking: Nonproductive Yet Lingering Myth

Solving two problems with one action is hitting two birds with one stone. This is certainly productive but this is different from performing two acts at the same time. "No man could serve two masters" is a favorite verse from the Scriptures. No one would be happy to see his or her surgeon texting while performing a surgery. No one should be texting while driving. Yet, we see plenty of examples out there. The following diagram shows why texting and driving severely lengthens the reaction time of a driver:

Above figure copied from Driving MBA
Texting is in fact worse than being intoxicated. The unexplainable part is that people already know this. The following is a graph from a recent paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied:

Above figure copied from Finley, J. R., Benjamin, A. S., & McCarley, J. S. (2014, February 3). Metacognition of Multitasking: How Well Do We Predict the Costs of Divided Attention?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xap0000010
The above experiment involves two tasks simultaneously performed by a participant: (1) "keeping a mouse cursor within a small target that moved erratically around a circular track" and (2) "performing an auditory task (listening to a series of numbers and reacting when a given number is repeated). Compared to simply keeping the mouse cursor without doing the additional task of listening, the dual task results in a 6% drop in performance across the participants. What is worth noting from the above figure is that the participants are very much aware of the price of multitasking. In fact, the participants anticipate a greater drop in performance when trying to do two tasks at the same time. So, why do we keep trying to multitask?

When I look at a classroom and I see a teacher who is so worried about what is going at home, I can imagine what this actually does to learning inside a classroom. If a society is unable to support a teacher's need to support his or her family, what kind of performance are we to expect inside a classroom. When a teacher does other activities totally separate from teaching in order to augment one's income to support a family, should we really expect 100 percent? It does not make sense to expect teachers to be capable of multitasking when no one really is. I guess the answer is simple - We do not really care.

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