The iPhone vs. Dialogue Education

How many of you facilitators want to frisk your participants before a learning event so you can strip them of their iPhones (or Blackberries or Palm Pilots or . . . )? No more sneaking peaks at e-mail during the warm-up tasks, no checking the weather while another team is practice teaching, no calling in for voice messages during the break . . . ah, wouldn’t that be fantastic?

People think that because they’ve spent years learning how to multi-task, they can easily pay attention to a facilitator, their iPhone, and their learning partner all at the same time. Guess what? They can’t. According to Dr. Earl K. Miller, Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, you can only truly focus on one thing at a time. What we think of as multi-tasking is actually just switching our focus from one thing to the next, albeit with incredible speed. But what this means is that if someone is engaged in a group conversation while simultaneously texting a friend, they are really only able to pay attention to one thing – either they don’t hear all that’s said in the group or they send their friend a garbled text message. Dr. Miller says that one reason for this is that if our brains are trying to perform similar tasks at once – like communicating orally and in writing – our brain is competing with itself to use that brain function and it’s “nearly impossible to do [two similar things] at the same time.” And then, of course, the brain gets tired and overwhelmed.

Listen to this brief piece from NPR’s Morning Edition:  Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again. Next time you frisk your students, tell them you’re simply trying to provide their brains with an oasis of focus – a welcome break for their weary minds – in their typically chaotic, multi-tasking world.

Have you forbidden mobile hand-held devices in your classroom? Do you turn off your own while you’re teaching (even on breaks)? See the comments section, below, too, for a link to Dwayne Hodgson’s post about how TO use the iPhone in the classroom!

This post is by Joan Dempsey