Your students may claim otherwise—as they Snapchat while doing math homework while watching YouTube music videos—but experts say that multitasking doesn’t work. The American Psychological Association tells us that quality and productivity suffer when we try to do too many disparate things at once, because “the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multi-tasking.”
A shift from multitasking to multi-asking, though, can satisfy students’ hunger for variety while maintaining the focus they need to experience meaningful learning. Education consultant George Curos talks about multi-asking, or multidisciplinary thinking, in a recent blog post about the skills schools should be teaching their students. Multidisciplinary thinking is about tackling projects and solving problems by integrating ideas and methods from many fields—from science to the arts to the humanities.
“The most innovative solutions to local problems … demand deep integration of quantitative and emotional insights that are too often segregated between traditional academic disciplines,” says an article Curos quotes in his post.
Technology is a natural tool and context for multidisciplinary thinking. Students can access a world of diverse perspectives and practices with just a few online queries. Shared online spaces allow them to collaborate with each other in and outside the classroom, expanding opportunities for creative and critical thinking. And with real-time virtual observation, teachers can easily track and respond to how students are using the information they’re gathering.
Vartek Technology Integration Specialist Ryan Troescher works with educators every day to design tech-based learning experiences that help students see the world in different ways. “The right technology makes it so much easier for students to concentrate their energy and curiosity to explore concepts and potential solutions from multiple angles,” he says. “I love to see the lightbulb come on when a kid discovers how thinking about an engineering problem from an artistic perspective raises new possibilities.”
Tools such as CS First, which Vartek Classroom Technology Coach Amanda Winter wrote about earlier this fall, is a great example of this trend toward blending disciplines to help students become more innovative thinkers and problem solvers. It’s a computer coding program through which students create their own animation, interactive stories, and games—all built around themes in such broad subjects as music, art, sports, and design.
So, maybe students are onto something with their simultaneous Snapchats, math homework, and streaming videos. Maybe it just takes an innovative educator to find the unifying, learning purpose in these multiple disciplines.