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When people try to do several things at once or multitask, their performance suffers because the completion of their tasks slowed down, due to a constraint called a cognitive bottleneck.
A touchstone 2009 study by Stanford University used experiments to compare heavy media multitaskers to light media multitaskers in terms of their cognitive controll and ability to process information.
Findings from the experiment include: 1) When intentionally distracting elements were added to experiments, heavy media multitaskers were on average 77 milliseconds slower than their light media multitasker counterparts at identifying changes in patterns; 2) In a longer-term memory test that invited participants to recall specific elements from earlier experiments, the high media multitaskers more often falsely identified the elements that had been used most frequently as intentional distracters; 3) In the presence of distracting elements, high media multitaskers were 426 milliseconds slower than their counterparts to switch to new activities and 259 milliseconds slower to engage in a new section of the same activity.
Students use technology for many diverse on-task purposes including taking notes, conducting literature searches, viewing video/audio files, creating and viewing spreadsheets and Power Point slides, completing online tests and assignments, and even texting friends to ask questions about course material.
Outside of the classroom, students frequently use technology such as instant messaging to communicate with other students, coordinate group work, share important files and homework, and form peer support groups to vent and improve motivation. This is large because at the grade school and high school levels, technology is integrated into the design of the course and the teachers provide the necessary structure and supervision.
A large review of studies on driving while media multitasking showed that using a hands-free phone while driving is just as dangerous as using a hand-held phone, and results in many different driving mistakes including missing stop signs, forgetting to reduce speed when necessary, and following too closely, among many others. Talking to a person on a cell-phone while driving is not the same as having a conversation with a passenger, as adult passengers (but not children) often warn the driver of possible dangers, or at least stop talking when the driving conditions are tough, to let the driver focus on the road.
Media multitasking with other technologies, including MP3 players, voice-based email, the music system, and even the GPS while driving is just as distracting as using a phone. Students can use technologies in the classroom to multi-task in two specific ways when given the choice: For on-task purposes that supplement learning and ease the learning task, or for off-task purposes such as entertainment of social interaction.Much of this multitasking is not inherently coupled or coordinated, except by the user.For example, a user may be browsing the Web, listening to music playing video games, using e-mail, or talking on the phone while watching TV.Although multitasking behavior harms performance, the paradox is that organizational productivity is increasing at a high rate nonetheless.Concurrent with increased multitasking in the workforce and the subsequent rise in productivity and just multitasking in general, the literature has witnessed progressively more reports of increased stress, loss of focus, Research on media multitasking in real-world settings focuses mostly on using cell-phones while driving.The results of one study showed no benefits to using laptops in improving student GPA in comparison to students who did not use laptops.Overall, there is a pattern of decreasing the effectiveness of using technology for on-task purposes from the grade school level to the university level.The researchers conclude that the experiments "suggest that heavy media multitaskers are distracted by the multiple streams of media they are consuming, or alternatively, that those who infrequently multitask are more effective at volitionally allocating their attention in the face of distractions".According to this theory, people have only a limited amount of cognitive resources, which allows us only to focus and complete one task at a time.Such conditions allow students to process information more deeply, apply the newly learned information to new contexts, as well as improve collaboration among students.However, university students do not generally benefit from technology.