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Research finds students have trouble multitasking, easily distracted

September 10th, 2009

With the growing amount of technology at our fingertips, students find themselves multitasking more than ever and as a result they are more  easily distracted.

It’s common for students to listen to music, be on social networking sites, watch TV and talk to friends on instant messenger  all while trying to complete their homework assignments.  The amount of time students spend engaging in these distracting activities is alarmingly high.  

Senior Nick Cannavino said, “I probably spend an average of two to five hours a day on the Internet, watching TV and playing video games.”   

However, according to a Stanford University study of 262 college undergraduates, people that multitask frequently are extremely bad at it.  

Through various activities performed by researchers in this study, results found that people who multitask are often unable to ignore irrelevant information. 

In fact, they are more easily distracted than those who multitask less, and they have a harder time switching from one task to another.  

The study also concluded that those participants who considered themselves to be good at multitasking in a pre-study survey, were found to be bad at it after running through the series of tests taken during the research.

These results were not what Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford’s Communications Department, expected to find. “Is multitasking causing them to be lousy at multitasking, or is their lousiness at multitasking causing them to be multitaskers?” Nass said. “Is it born or learned?”

Sarah Van Slette, a professor in the Communications and Theatre Arts Department at John Carroll University, agrees with this result. “When I’m on my iPhone at home, answering students’ e-mails or planning meetings with people at all hours of the day and night, I’m distracted from things that really matter, like my husband and my home life,” said Van Slette. “I know that I am a better worker when I focus on one thing at a time.”

Online magazine’s Suite 101 Campus Life writer, Naomi Rockler-Gladen, has some great tips for how to keep technology and our temptation to multitask from affecting our grades. 

 Rockler-Gladen offers students a list of ways in which they could better manage their time between school, work and things such as Facebook, MySpace and video games.

She also said that students can combat distractions such as TV and computer games with a couple simple steps.

Rockler-Gladen also said that cell phones can turn out to be extremely distracting to students, and that they must learn to fight the urge to text and talk while doing work.

Senior, Brikena Hajnaj, agrees. “I rarely even bring my phone to the library anymore, because I can’t concentrate when people keep calling and texting me,” she said.  

Rockler-Gladen thinks that students need to stay off instant messenger altogether while trying to complete homework assignments.   If someone really needs to get a hold of you, she suggests they e-mail you instead, which is much less distracting.  

So, the next time you are sitting in the library trying to get your homework done, as hard as it may be, the best way to stay focused and actually learn the material you’ve been assigned is to turn off your cell phone, pause your iPods, logout of Facebook, and center all your attention on the task you are trying to complete.