Monday, May 13, 2013

Time Management in an On-Demand World

So you watched the video and you are thinking what I was thinking: "the Internet is not going away, so how do we resolve this?"

I think about how TV must have been perceived when it came out. And I think about how it is used today. In my house we watch a lot of documentaries, the news, a little bit of reality TV, and some sitcoms, but overall, the TV in our house serves more for background noise. And now with so many on-demand options, we seldom watch TV when it is scheduled and watch it when it is convenient to us.

The Internet, on the other hand, is an all the time on-demand information force to be reckoned with! Which is why I believe that 21st century learning is not about rote memorization, but about digital citizenship.

Let's look at this pre-Internet. Looking up the facts, before the Internet and World Wide Web meant going to a library, flipping through the card catalog, and finding the appropriate book with the information you needed. If you really wanted to get to it fast, then that meant going to the set of encyclopedias, pulling out the appropriate letter, and looking it up there. So the ability to "look up the facts" was available during the 20th century, but now in the digital 21st century, it is just so much easier to do. That is the real difference.

I once asked a teacher back in the '80's, when I was in high school why he always encouraged us to use encyclopedias over books written specifically for what we were researching and I'll never forget his answer: "Incidental learning". My adolescent brain was totally like (best valley girl voice) .... say what??

He explained that incidental learning is the learning we do without intention. For example, I might be looking for an entry in the encyclopedia for Vikings, and along the way find something about vacuums. I wasn't researching for vacuums, but it catches my eye so I read about how a vacuum works. Once my side trip is done, I will now return to my search for Vikings.

I think the Internet works a lot like this. We start on one path, often get side tracked, return to our original path and finish out the journey. Unfortunately, this often gets overlooked as a benefit of our hyperlinked world.

What, I believe, is the real issue is not our constant clicking about on the Internet until we burn out, but instead is our ability to manage our time. I see this every day in our students. They seem to think there isn't enough time to do all they need and want to do. When I gift them a period of class time to work on a project I assigned, you would think they would be excited that they were given nearly an hour of time that is not outside of school time to work on it.

No they were not. They were surfing. I would verbally redirect them, that would work for a minute or two, then there were surfing again. I would lock down their computer remotely, they would promise to stay on track, but then off they go surfing again. This was my hour with 1/3rd of the class, the other 2/3rds completed their work and then went on a surfing expedition. Of course, by the 5th time I told the 1/3rd that they are not allowed to surf off task, they would point out that the other 2/3rd were surfing off task. "Their work is done and now they are being afforded the last few minutes of class to pursue something of interest to them."

Does the example I just gave support the video? Yes in some ways, but no in others. The kids who stayed on-task until the research and writing goals were achieved managed their time better than the ones who were off-task. The fact of the matter is that 2/3rds of the group had the goals for the hour in front of them and worked toward that goal with focus, using the Internet the whole time, with little to no side trips. It was the other 1/3rd that are a concern and achieved nothing. If the non-focused 1/3rd would have managed their time better, then they too could have made the same accomplishments.

So we need to add time management to the list of 21st century skills that our students (and ourselves) need to incorporate in our quest to be outstanding digital citizens. This means shutting off your phone when it is not appropriate to use it (movies, bedtime, meal times, etc). Do we really need to be that connected all the time to the whole world? If we disconnect a couple of hours a day, we can reconnect with those around us and quiet our mind long enough to allow some of that short term memory to move in to our long term memory. Check your email once an hour, or schedule a time in the day (or a couple of times) when you can read and respond to emails. If you have an email alert, you can shut it off when it is not your scheduled time to deal with emails. It'll all be there waiting for you during your scheduled times. I have even started the habit of reading all my snail mail in the school's office when I pick it up, throwing away what I don't need, bringing back what I do need, and putting it in a "to file" box to be put away later. I no longer have a pile of papers building on my desk that will distract me from other things that need my attention.

Of course, tomorrow I will be using today's experience as a teachable moment by starting my class with  a resource and time management discussion. I imagine my 2/3rds of on-task workers will continue those habits, while my other third will remember the warnings, lock-downs, and unavailable down time at the end of class. Hopefully they are reflecting on that independently, but if not, our discussion might remind them of the purpose for our hour of time and how precious time really is.

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