Friday, January 15, 2010

Technophilia or Infomania?

"Research recently commissioned by technology experts Hewlett Packard, concluded that 62% of adults are addicted to checking e-mail and text messages. An investigation of over a 1,000 adults, carried out by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, found that 1 in 2 workers respond to an e-mail or text either immediately or within the hour. 1 in 5 people wouldn’t consider it inappropriate to interrupt a business meeting or social gathering in order to respond to a text message or e-mail.

"Victims of infomania are thought to suffer a significant loss of concentration, their minds in a permanent state of readiness to reply to texts and e-mails which distracts them from other tasks. This may result in an average drop in IQ of 10 points, more than twice the reduction caused by smoking marijuana and the equivalent to losing a night’s sleep. Men are allegedly more susceptible to infomania than women." (Macmillan English Dictionary)

Students in your online classroom may be trying to manage more information than they can handle. They see your visuals, hear your explanation, may be checking out who else is online in the roster, and may have a host of chat messages (public or private) coming at them at the same time. All of this can be a distraction from the important learning task you're intent on having them accomplish. Over time, we all get better at coping with multiple information sources and the stream of data that is constantly available, but your students may not have had time to develop skills in information management.

Bill Mann suggests that mind maps are a useful way to overcome information overload. "A mind map is a visual representation of chunks of information and the relationships between those chunks. Starting with a central topic, idea, or theme, you create a mind map by writing a phrase that identifies the central theme in the center of a piece of paper. Next, you write words or phrases identifying key topics on the page, arranging them around the central theme. Draw lines between the topics and the central theme to show that they are related. You can also connect topics directly to each other." Tony Buzan has a wonderful video clip that illustrates the use of mind maps, along with several books on the subject.

Herbert Simon said, ""In the period ahead of us, more important than advances in computer design will be the advances we can make in our understanding of human information processing...."  You can help your students process the information you provide in your classroom by giving them advice or tips about how to handle all this "stuff." This may be as simple as providing Ross Dowson's "Eight steps to thriving on information overload" or as complex as devoting a class period to sharing and discussing how your students are handling the information they're getting in your class. As David Meyer's research demonstrates, multitasking is going to slow your students down and increase their chances of making mistakes: none of us can actually concentrate on two things at once.

We know this from experience. Let's share our knowledge with students who haven't learned it yet.


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