Schools lost and puzzled with multitasking and ubiquitous media

Image: eflon

“The average young American spends practically every waking minute – except for the time in school – using electronic media.”

This is how an article on Thursday’s International Herald Tribune starts. The title goes: “Today’s youth always ‘on’, and then some”. These are results of a recent study. The results were a shock to the authors of the study: they had believed in 2005 that media use of the youth had already reached a ceiling – there were just not enough hours in a day for more growth. But they didn’t take multitasking into account. The kids can listen to music, play games and chat with a friend all at the same time. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that of the time used for electronic media, the children dedicate less than an hour a day for traditional channels like TV.

Of course, everybody is worried sick with the situation. Parents are doing their best to limit the media consumption of their children. Other studies have been quick to indicate a connection between heavy media use and several problems, for example lower grades in school.

I’m not saying this isn’t true. The lower grades can be proven easily. It’s not something you can have an opinion about; a lower grade is a lower grade, and apparently the children that use media a lot are more likely to get lower grades.

But why?

The easy answer, of course, is that they are so distracted with other things that they don’t have time to do their homework or study for the exams or write their reports. I’m very sure this is true, and a real part of the problem. But could it be – and now you can call me a heretic if you like – just could it be that there’s just too wide a gap between the school reality and the real-life reality? Could it be that the curriculum, the learning environments and the working methods represent a world that’s no longer here? Could it be that it’s one of the reasons to the lower grades of the children who use all their time (except for school hours) for communicating, acquiring information and solving problems in a completely different way, with completely different tools than the ways and tools of the school?

Dr. Michael Rich from Children’s Hospital Boston, the director of the Center on Media and Child’s Health was also interviewed in the article. He said that “…with media use so ubiquitous, it is time to stop arguing over whether it is good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat”.

Ubiquitous media is here to stay. It has changed the way people work, learn and communicate. This is the reality at work places and in business life. The only exception – as we can also see in this article – is the school. Is it wise to fight the windmills and try to maintain a status quo that’s no longer there? Do we teachers understand the world these students and children will have to work in? Could it be that the behavior we are so quick to condemn and label as “bad habits”- such as multitasking and effective use of ubiquitous media – might in fact be the essential skills the children will need in order to be successful members of the society? Instead, we should realize our responsibility to teach the children to put their valuable multitasking skills into productive use. Children are smart enough to learn to use electronic media on their own, but they need guidance in media literacy and professional use of ubiquitous media. Who is going to teach them that?

Source: Today’s youth always ‘on’, and then some. Tamar Lewin in International Herald Tribune, Thursday, January 21.2010.

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7 Comments

Filed under Future of education

7 responses to “Schools lost and puzzled with multitasking and ubiquitous media

  1. Who is going to teach them that?

    Educators and parents
    Media Literacy Clearinghouse, a great place to start
    Frank Baker, trainer, author, webmaster

  2. hannatorp

    Thank you for the comment. It’s important to have instances like the Media Literacy Clearinghouse, who provide educators with information regarding the issue. However, what I’m concerned with are the attitudes of the educators: new media is very often seen as the bogeyman, something the children are “wasting their time with”. What is missing is a clear understanding of what is going on in the society. The use of electronic media, alongside with media literacy, should be integrated in the curriculum much more tightly. It can no longer be viewed as a separate, “special skill” that is sometimes included in the curriculum (and sometimes not so much), but it should be taken into consideration in learning environment design and teaching methods – in other words the everyday routine of the schools.

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  5. Hi Hanna
    You ask very pertinent questions here. Who indeed is going to guide the kids to the more professional use of today’s media, let alone the important media literacy skills when the reality is that too many teachers totally write any this off as trivial and useless entertainment, or waste of time? Learning with the help of modern technology still is, to large extent, an add-on in our schools. A lot has to change for it to be incorporated as an integral part of all learning environments.

    • hannatorp

      Exactly! This is a real problem. Sadder still, many of the teachers interested in using digital media in education seem to think that the most important reason for doing so is to entertain the students and make the lessons more “fun”. Of course it’s nice that studying is fun, but the truth is that it not always is – and it doesn’t have to be. Teachers don’t need to try to impress the students. Instead, the use of digital media is important because that’s what reality is all about.

      Maybe you’ve already seen this: http://bit.ly/cwhCUg (in Finnish). It’s good that these things are being considered, but I find it very troubling that the main concern here seems to be that “the children might feel bored with the old-fashioned teaching methods”. So many people seem to be missing the core question.

      • Thank you for the link – interesting article. But yes, still the focus is on equipping schools with the technology. Technology alone doesn’t do anything! Many IWBs hang unused on classroom walls…

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