Multitasking -- Can we actually perform tasks in parallel?

Is multitasking possible? If yes, then what conditions apply and is quality affected? If no, then why does it appear we can?

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Multitasking -- Can we actually perform tasks in parallel?

Description:

Is multitasking possible? If yes, then what conditions apply and is quality affected? If no, then why does it appear we can?

Driving Questions:

  • What are the popular and technical definitions for multitasking?
  • If we can actually multitask, what conditions must be met and is quality of performance on tasks reduced / increased, duration for completing tasks reduced / increased, and are stress levels of person multitasking reduced / increased?
  • If we cannot actually multitask, then why does it 'look' like we can / are, what's really happening when we 'multitask', and does any reduction / increase depend upon categories of tasks performed in parallel? Examples:
    • Walking and Talking vs. Driving and Texting.
    • Watching a Movie and Studying for a Test vs. Watching a Movie and Cooking Dinner

Topics:

  • Primary: Addiction, Habit Formation, Health & Wellness, Learning & Study Skills, Cognitive Costs
  • Secondary: Multitasking in Computers, Fundamental Computing Components, Data Analysis & Making Generalizations
  • Tertiary: Test-case Design, Basic Statistical Measurements, Using Spreadsheet Software, Simple Abuses of Statistics

Desired Outcomes:

For students to walk away with an understanding of what addiction is, how addictive technology can be, how to recognize things to which they may be addicted, how in many contexts 'multitasking' is a euphemism for 'being distracted', and the negative impact on cognitive ability associated with attempts to perform certain categories of tasks in parallel.

Along the way, basics of human cognition are explored and compared to how computers function, specifically the illusion of multitasking in both cases. Categories of tasks are identified and tested singly and in parallel with both other homogeneous and heterogeneous categories. Students will then learn how to do basic data analysis and the importance of having adequate plot points for making generalizations.

Wrap-up consists of easily understood cases where statistics have been intentionally abused or unintentionally misused, acting as a jumping point into a unit on Information Fluency with topics including, types of sources, power of language and visuals, and improving search techniques.

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Photo of Jennifer
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Hi Shawn, I like how you pose a good question:"why does it appear we can multitask?" and this notion that the traditional definition of multitasking is different than popular definitions given the access to technology. I think about the student who says they can watch a live instagram feed, listen to spotify, get and send a few texts to their friends and do their homework at the same time.
Have you checked out:
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of "Distraction Addiction" has an interesting talk on this. He says " What is commonly called multitasking is, in fact, switch tasking, and its deleterious effects on productivity are well documented. “When you’re constantly interrupted by external things — the phone, texts, people with ‘just one quick question,’ clients, children — by self-generated interruptions, or by your own efforts to multitask and juggle several tasks at once, the chronic distractions erode your sense of having control of your life. They don’t just derail your train of thought. They make you lose yourself.”

I'm curious---what kinds of activities can lead students to this understanding?

What would this look like in a lesson? >> "how addictive technology can be, how to recognize things to which they may be addicted, how in many contexts 'multitasking' is a euphemism for 'being distracted', "

This website comes to mind for a great classroom activity? http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com