This week’s blog prompt came at an opportune time and I’ll explain why using a recent personal story. My wife and I have a 6-month old daughter and she is fantastic! Unfortunately, now that summer is long gone, I’m back to the hectic world of teaching which, as we all know, is a job that takes up a lot of time and energy. September, in particular, is always a rough month because I am responsible for planning our yearly “Outdoor School” trip for all of the grade 9s and I also coach soccer while having an intern (which tends to take up whatever spare time I have at the start of a school). That, combined with taking Master’s classes means that the time I have to spend with my daughter is minimal. On a good day, I’m not home until 5 while my daughter tends to go to bed between 6 and 6:30. So, what’s the point of this not-at-all-unique amongst teachers story? Well, a couple of weeks ago I was “spending time” with my daughter and I noticed something. While she was bouncing around in her Jolly Jumper I was sending some texts and snaps while reading various articles online and checking out my fantasy football team out all with the TV on in the background. I have precious little time with my daughter during the week and there I was, somewhat focused on her but also focused on a million other things. On the bright side, I actually noticed this, put my phone somewhere out of reach and turned off the TV. To steal a question from this week’s video on multitasking – have I developed an inability to focus because I never focus on things?
We were asked this week to address whether or not the internet is a productivity tool or an endless series of distractions. I would argue that it’s both. As a productivity tool, there is so much that the internet is capable of. For starters, I’m an avid user of Google Drive for both personal and educational use. Without the internet, Google Drive doesn’t exist because of its cloud-based interface.
As it pertains to the classroom, the internet has also proven to be beneficial. Something as simple as being able to immediately look up the answer to a student’s question is great. In addition, as was pointed out in this week’s presentation, gone are the days where group members have to physically be in the same room in order to complete an assignment. If students have access to the proper technology at home (which we can’t assume – students and even schools themselves aren’t operating on an equal playing field when it comes to technology) – they are now able to edit each other’s work from any computer anywhere. In class presentations are also greatly enhanced thanks to the internet. Whether it’s a teacher or a student, the ability to embed a variety of videos/images/content into a presentation for all to see is great (assuming that YouTube doesn’t fail when you’re trying to present!). Images, graphs, charts, and up-to-date statistics are all easily accessible thanks to the internet.
On the flip side, it’s easy to get distracted given the sheer volume of content that we have at our fingertips. Tabs are an excellent example of this. It’s rare for me to have one tab open when I’m browsing the internet. Not only that, but most of my tabs don’t even relate to one another. At any given moment, I’ll likely have various tabs open on current events, sports, research, music, recipes, how to raise a child, how to deal with my wife’s annoying cat, YouTube videos, etc. Doing any sort of productive work (marking, prepping for classes, researching for graduate classes, blogging) takes longer now because it’s harder for me to remain focused on one thing. I’d be shocked if I’m able to go beyond 30 minutes without doing something that’s completely unrelated to the task at hand.
We also can’t have a conversation about endless multitasking without looking at cell phones. There are so many different apps each with a different purpose. Chances are today, I’ll check Facebook a few times, I’ll be on Snapchat, I’ll check Twitter fairly regularly, I’ll do some browsing, check out some of my sports apps for the latest news, check out my fantasy football team, and maybe listen to some music. In all likelihood, I’m doing all of these things multiple times per day while also doing other things such as eating supper, “spending time” with my family or watching a movie.
So yes, the internet is absolutely a productivity tool. The tools and information that it can provide us with are nothing short of extraordinary. However, all of this information has come at a cost because the internet has also helped foster a generation of individuals (myself obviously included) that cannot focus on one thing. On top of that, there are concerns regarding the damage that multitasking can potentially do to your brain. A few years ago, I was teaching Psychology 30 and I remember coming across a study from Stanford University that found that “high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control” (Gorlick, 2009). Empathy is something that our students need more of, not less.
Given everything that we know, both good and bad about the internet, one thing is for certain – digital citizenship is more important now than ever and needs to be taught (by parents and teachers) starting at an early age.