Over the winter "break," I attended the UW System Southeast Regional Conference, the focus of which was "Using Technology to Promote Active Learning." It was fantastic. In particular, I was impressed with the way in which the presenters focused on letting pedagogy drive the use of technology, rather than using technology for its own sake. The conference will likely lead to several workshops and showcases for the VTLC.
But before I get to the great content of the conference, which will be featured in future blog posts, I started thinking about my own uses of technology in and out of the classroom, both as a teacher and scholar, and how it has made my teaching or research better. The problem I continue to circle back to, even at the conference itself as I answered emails and text messages, downloaded apps featured in the presentations, and checked Facebook way too many times, is that I have convinced myself that I am fantastic at multitasking when using technology to the extent that I rarely allow myself to focus on one thing at a time. Case in point: as I type this I have nine tabs open in Chrome and 3 programs running (and it just occurred to me that I wasn't taking advantage of the "quiet time" to listen to a podcast). A recent study says that 2.5% of people are "supertaskers" who can do multitask so efficiently that not just the productivity, but also the quality of their work is improved. However, my work time regularly reminds me of this clip from Portlandia.
And that brings me to the reason for this post. With classes starting next week, the conference made me think about how I could use technology more effectively, and instead of permitting technology to dictate how I do my work, allowing my workload to dictate when and how I use technology.
Questions for Reflection:
- How can I better organize my teaching into daily components on which I focus solely for a specific duration of time?
- How will my teaching effectiveness/productivity be affected if I answer questions, respond to discussion posts, and answer emails during planned times throughout the day rather than immediately?
- How will my productivity be affected by committing to do tasks in a scheduled, focused manner?
- and... the million dollar question... How do I use technology to make myself a better teacher?
The fact is--"supertaskers" aside--none of the research on multitasking would lead me to conclude I am a better teacher or scholar for multitasking. In fact, it is likely harming me, especially if the quality is affected by the scattered way in which I complete tasks. For me, at least, it amounts to procrastination and distraction from the task at hand (I've lost count of how many emails and other things I did while drafting this post). If the research is correct, that means a positive goal I can set for myself is to change my technological habits. So, to that end...
My goal for the first week of class calls for a retronym: single-tasking.
I define this as
- Writing one email (or blog post or anything else) at a time.
- Logging out of email (and Facebook and Twitter) while lesson planning, reading, grading.
- Responding to email and discussion board questions at planned times, rather than all day long.
I know these tasks look and sound like easy, logical things to do, but I am a Pavlov dog trained to check email at the sound of a bell ring from my phone, even in the middle of reading bedtime stories to my children. (Though in this metaphor, I'm not sure how I have developed such a conditioned response to email (other than loving my job, of course).)
Feel free to join me in this challenge, if you are so inclined. And, feel free to disagree, especially if you are a supertasker. Share the tips and tricks you have for navigating our technology infused professions, whether those may be single-tasking or multitasking effectively.
Wish me luck. I will report back at the end of next week.