I think that one of the hardest tasks, with a device in front of me during a meeting, presentation, or table discussion is the ability to stay focused on what is going on in the room. I need to focus on what is being said or done in order to fully absorb the content.
With that said, I need the device. Although I like the flexibility of easily pointing to text and making notes about my notes on paper, I now have a very difficult time writing with pen and paper. One reason is that my hand-writing no longer reflects the Palmer Method I learned in school. Plus my hand and wrist cramp up! Another reason is that when I take notes on paper, they somehow disappear. So, when I want to refer to my notes at a later date, they are nowhere to be found or hard to decipher. When I type up my notes, with today’s built-in computer searches, I can type in a key word and find it on my computer in no time. I can add to the notes as well – hyperlinks, additional information, thoughts on the topic.
PLN preaches that reading, writing, talking, and listening go together. So, as I read, I write. As I listen, I write. The question for today is – where do I write? For some of us it’s a bound paper notebook. For others, it’s a word processor. There are some of us that take notes directly into Google Docs, even sharing the note-taking responsibility during a conference. During professional development, and in the classroom, I think we should encourage choice.
Now, back to the question of multi-tasking… If WE are having difficulty with this, imagine what kids are experiencing, especially as the content they are learning gets more complex. As educators, I believe that we are responsible for creating life-long learners. If “kids today” are multi-tasking, is it in their best interest to have them turn it off at the door? Maybe, or, perhaps, they need to learn skills appropriate for the tools available to them. Maybe, note-taking on a device that does not provide easy task-switching is the answer. It works for me. Or maybe we encourage them to use the device, if that’s their chosen form of note-taking, and gently recommend that they turn off their email and browser.
I am a proponent of including a back channel during what are typically passive events, e.g. keynotes and in-class movies, whenever someone is talking at me. It allows me to engage with others in the audience – to make comments without interrupting, to ask questions of the audience, to clarify my thinking, to get questions out of my head, while the speaker is speaking, to allow me to continue to absorb what is being said, and to gain expertise from the audience. Are there times when I have to put the back channel aside? Absolutely! But, lucky for me, the back channel or a transcription of it, is usually available after the session.
In order to understand if multi-tasking is possible, we need to experiment with it in PD experiences. That will give us the knowledge and wisdom we need to teach our students the appropriate use of the tools that are available to them. We need to set guidelines before their use, monitor how they are being used during the session, and re-visit the use of the tool after it is used.