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Episode 29: The Myth of Multitasking: How to Help Students Manage Distractions with Dr. Aviva Bower

Lecture Breakers podcast with Dr. Barbi Honeycutt teaching and learning the myth of multitasking




Our guest for episode 29 of the Lecture Breakers podcast is Dr. Aviva Bower. She's here to talk about how to help students understand the myth of multitasking and how task switching can negatively impact long term memory and retention.

Many of you have written to me about your frustration with how distracted students are in the classroom. You know, I hear you saying:

“I just cannot compete with the devices.”

“It doesn’t matter what activities I’ve planned, my students will not stop looking at their phones.”

“I’m thinking about banning laptops so students will stay focused!”

Now that might be a little extreme, but I hear your frustration and so that’s the focus of today’s episode.

This episode was recorded a few weeks before the COVID19 pandemic completely upended our lives and especially education. So, during this conversation, I was mainly thinking about distractions in the in-person classroom.

However, as I re-listened and edited this episode, I realized how applicable this conversation is to the challenges we’re facing right now with teaching online. The online course format doesn’t eliminate distractions.

Students still feel like they can multitask and do something on their phone while working through an online module and skimming their textbook.

Aviva shares the research on what happens when we engage in this type of digital multitasking, or task switching, and the negative impacts it can have on long term memory and retention.

I appreciated the opportunity to discuss the research and the ways we can all feel more in control of our devices. I enjoyed this conversation and I hope you will too. 

What you'll learn in this episode:

  • What the research tells us about the effects of multitasking.

  • Telling students doesn't change their behavior. Instead, Dr. Bower shares 3 things you can do to change students' behavior.

  • The 1 question you can ask your students to help them re-frame their use of devices and remember what matters most to them.

  • The difference between deep processing and superficial processing.

  • Strategies to help students reflect on their use of devices and make a plan to take back control.

Memorable Quotes:

  • "Our students are competing with their devices. They feel challenged and frustrated by their devices too."

  • "The more you multitask, the worse you are at multitasking."

  • "Students are frustrated with the way they and others interact with phones and screens."

  • "Our devices are scattering our ability to work well."

Show Notes:

Here's a list of articles you can use to create research prediction activities for your students:

Glass, A., & Kang, M. (2019). Dividing attention in the classroom reduces exam performance. Educational Psychology, 39, 395–408.

Kang, S., & Kurtzberg, T. (2019). Reach for your cell phone at your own risk: the cognitive costs of media choice for breaks. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 8, 395–403.

Lepp, A., Barkley, J., & Karpinski, A. (2014). The relationship between cell phone use, academic performance, anxiety, and satisfaction with life in college students. Computers in Human Behavior, 31, 343–350.

Ward, A. F., Duke, K., Gneezy, A., & Bos, M. W. (2017). Brain drain: The mere presence of one's own smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2, 140-154.

Ophira, E., Nass, C., & Wagner, A. (2009). Cognitive control in media multitaskers, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 106, 15583–15587.


More resources from the show:


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