Texting is a distraction, and hours matter.

May 17, 2010 at 9:13 am 7 comments

I see a sharp contrast in news articles the last few days about what it takes to teach today’s kids.  On the one hand, hours matter.  We see that in the article below, and in popular books like Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers.

Students at Boston charter schools appear to have an academic edge over their peers at the city’s traditional schools because of the additional time they spend in school each year, according to a report being released today.

The extra time in charter schools, roughly 378 hours annually, allows students to receive significantly more instruction in English and math and creates opportunities for them to receive tutoring during the school day, according to the report by the Boston Foundation, a charitable organization that supports charter schools and also works with the city school system on improvement efforts.

via Charter schools gain edge from hours, says study – The Boston Globe.

Today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reviews a new book that says that today’s kids multitask and we should change the way we teach them in order to support that habit.

But Rosen’s own daughter — valedictorian of her high school and now a Yale student — did her homework while watching television, listening to her iPod and trading text messages with friends, says Rosen, author of the new book “Rewired,” which examines how the iGeneration — children born in the 1990s and beyond — learn.

A longtime researcher on the impact of technology, Rosen says we are faced with a new breed of learners for whom doing more than one thing at a time is a way of life.

“This is a generation that has multi-tasked from birth and that is what they do from morning to night,” he says.

via Wired from the Womb: “We are looking at a generation that can’t not text.”

In the review of Rosen’s book, no evidence is provided that the electronic distractions didn’t inhibit performance.  Yes, his daughter was a valedictorian.  Having smart parents will do that.  Might she have learned more without the distractions?

I don’t disagree with the premise that YouTube and texting and Wikipedia offer learning opportunities.  I disagree with the belief that this multitasking doesn’t cost, that there is no cognitive load, that one can perform as well with the distractions as without them.  Spending more time on something important (from studying to rehearsal) helps. Texting and YouTube take time. If the raw number of study hours do not increase, then time spent texting is time spent away from studying. Yes, I believe that social interaction can support learning.  I don’t believe that all that texting is helpful to learning.

As a parent and as a knowledge-worker, these are issues that I personally struggle with.  My middle child sent 13,000 texts last month.  Yeah. Do the math.  That’s unbelievable.  As parents, we struggle with where we allow her to text and where we insist on schoolwork without distractions.  For myself, I have decided to dump my Blackberry in favor of a plain cellphone (with keyboard, so that I can still communicate with my texting children).  I’ve ordered an iPad with 3G, because I do see the value of getting to the Internet and my email at places where a laptop is inconvenient.  Over a two year contract, it’s a slight cost advantage to go with iPad and 3G vs. the Blackberry.  (The experiment is starting early — I cancelled my corporate Blackberry account Saturday, so I can no longer access Exchange via my Blackberry, but my iPad won’t arrive until early June!)  I am concerned that having the Internet in my pocket is more a distraction than a benefit.  Do I really need to check email in every 10 minute interval?  Do I need the distraction in meetings or while driving?  How does such ready access detract from my experiences and my work?

As a techie-geeky guy, this is a strange step.  I’m making a move away from ubiquitous access, from ever more computing at my beck-and-call?  It’s an experiment for me, a choice in favor of reflection over distraction, maybe a choice that leads to increased frustration and boredom.  (This doesn’t mean I have to listen in faculty meetings, does it?!?)  There are some bigger things I want to get done over the next couple years, and so I’m acting on my belief that decreasing multi-tasking leads to better performance.  If next time you see me, I’m jittery like an addict, it might not be too much caffeine.

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The role of single-sex schools for black and Latino men Teach for America as a finger in the dyke

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. thinkingwiththings  |  May 17, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    A colleague reads email twice a week. I was shocked when I discovered this, but also envious. I’m thinking of trying it myself. Email can be “quality time” but it often is not, and it is always a distraction. Good luck with your experiment.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jim Brotherton. Jim Brotherton said: Texting is a distraction, and hours matter. « Computing Education Blog http://bit.ly/annHDq […]

  • 3. Fred Martin  |  May 18, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    I have to comment on the extended-day. This is a clear class issue: parents of middle-class kids typically schedule a variety of enrichment activities on weekday afternoons (sports; music; dance; drama; etc.) and are arguably less well-served if school were to take over this time.

    On the other hand, low SES students, who don’t have these opportunities, certainly can benefit from extended day.

    This is problematic because of political forces pushing towards extended day in regular public schools.

    I know that I don’t want this for my kids.

    At the same time, I see this as a social good for some other kids.


  • 4. Alfred Thompson  |  May 19, 2010 at 11:21 am

    I often hear the complaint that some people (Bill Gates comes up a lot) want to send other people’s kids to schools they would not send their own to. To some extent that is the case but on the other case not all students have the same advantages. We all know that there are studies that show that one of the (if not the) best predictor of academic success is the level of education the parents have. If parents read to kids, take them to museums, and give them regular help with their homework and study they have an advantage over others. Many inner city students do not have that sort of support at home so it is not surprising that the same thing (class size, number of hours, etc) don’t work as well for them as for their more affluent age cohorts. So maybe they do need different sorts of schools and if they do why would providing them be bad?

    As for multi-tasking I used to do that well. As I get older I do it much less well. But even when I did it well I believe I performed better when I focused on one thing. Yes, today’s students multi-task and do it pretty well. That doesn’t mean they would not benefit from learning how to focus now and again. I do think we should adopt much in the way of new media, multi-media, and other technology enabling tools to support the way students think and learn today. But that is not the same as saying they should always be doing two (or more) things at once.

  • 5. Aaron Lanterman  |  May 24, 2010 at 4:53 am

    Every generation says the next generation is going to hell in a handbasket, yet every generation finds its own path.

  • 6. iGeneration « networks info space  |  August 5, 2010 at 2:15 am

    […] Texting is a distraction, and hours matter. (computinged.wordpress.com) […]

  • 7. Off to Denmark and ICER! « Computing Education Blog  |  August 6, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    […] I’m relating personal stories, I finally got rid of my Blackberry yesterday, the plans I mentioned in an earlier post.  I turned off my Exchange access right away, but Verizon wouldn’t let me turn off all 3G […]


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