Dr. Rosen’s talk focused on the so-called “iGeneration”, the generation of people born since 1990 who have grown up both with the internet and with a seemingly endless supply of gadgets including iPhones, iPads, iPods, wireless video gaming devices, cameras, e-readers, and the like. Dr. Rosen showed some great videos of an eight-year-old, a four-year-old, and a two-year-old using iPads and iPods, and it was remarkable to see these children discover how these devices work simply by trial and error. (To me, this says as much about the power of the human brain to learn new things as it does about the highly intuitive design of these devices.) The six-year-old’s reply to Dr. Rosen in the video was telling: when Dr. Rosen asked, “How you know how to use these things?” he replied, “Because I knew!” This generation believes in what digital devices should be able to do, and they expect for their devices to fulfill these needs, whether that means better connectivity to a social network or turning your iPhone into a lightsaber. Significantly, when this generation finds that their devices don’t do something they wish they could do, they’re likely to get creative and invent the functionality that they hoped to find in the first place.
With these insights in mind, there are considerable implications for education. First, Dr. Rosen talked about the issue of task-switching, which we sometimes incorrectly call multitasking. With iPhones in our pockets and laptops and iPads on our desks, we are a society increasingly addicted to doing many things at once, and it’s a complicated cognitive task for us to keep switching between all of these tasks. Several studies over the years have suggested that doing more than one task at once can decrease a person’s ability to do any of those tasks well. However, as much as we know that multitasking decreases productivity, it’s nearly impossible for us to stop.
One recommendation that he’s seen done well in schools is the “tech break.” Every fifteen minutes in a sixty-minute class, the lecture stops and students are allowed three minutes to check Facebook, send text messages, and generally get online. While this seems like an extreme concession to a bad habit, it could be an interesting way of training the tech-addicted mind to focus on a single task–listening in class–and then shift its attention completely for a few minutes to another task. This isn’t a skill that we practice much at school or at home, and it might be a remarkable opportunity for schools to teach a vital “21st-century skill” to their students.
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