Well actually… no. Learning how to multitask is not something you just go to school for to learn. You don’t get a certificate in multitasking. It’s something that comes with the needs of every day life and the way the world works and changes. A teenager in the 60s would have been perfectly happy to sit down and write a letter on paper, fold it, put it in an envelope, and send it by mail to his friend who lives in another country. Then he would have waited for about 20 to 30 days for a response to come back. While writing the letter though, this teenager would have had no way of doing anything else at the same time, because he had to hold the pen, the paper, and put all of his mind into actually putting the words together so the letter makes sense. If he was watching TV at the same time or was walking around the house, his letter will either look ridiculously confusing and out of focus, or will not be readable because we can’t walk and write clearly at the same time.
Nowadays, however, technology completes a few of these steps for us and we don’t even think about it. You can walk (some people even drive) while writing an email or a text message, which you will send with a click of a button. Less than a minute later, your friend who lives abroad will receive it, open it while watching TV or walking, or driving to the local drive-through ATM, and respond to you in detail before the cash comes out of the machine. How long was that? 10 minutes? Less?
So why are we expecting kids to change? And more importantly, why are we expecting us, the people who merely 15 years ago were happy to have saved for a personal computer for the house, to change? We shouldn’t! Life will continue going in the direction of technology and multitasking because this is the coarse of the future. So instead of trying to understand why teenagers are able to put us down by a simple phrase as: “You haven’t heard of Facebook?” with a look of shock in their eyes, we should look into what we can do to actually use this new “power” kids have today.
So when using technology for learning, we should not stress out about not being able to reach the level of tech-savvy-ness of our students because we won’t be able to. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we need the technology to teach in the first place, and also, if we do, what type of technology will make our teaching more effective? Designing a sophisticated video game is not going to help us teach decision-making any better than using a simple mind-map created with construction paper, scissors and a large sheet of paper to stick all the “bubbles” on. As long as the process is collaborative, your students will appreciate the engagement in the classroom. Besides, remember that you are in charge. You can make a simple tool engaging by altering it, adapting it, and applying it in an effective way.
Having said that, I don’t mean that teachers shouldn’t try to at least be up to date with what technology tools are out there. There are some really good resources that a teacher can use to make teaching interesting and engaging. For example, I have used many podcasts with my ESL tutoring students where I would design my lessons around one topic but I would include different sources and types of information. I found that one of my students was staying at a home-stay family that lived in a very noisy neighbourhood and my student didn’t know how to express her frustration about the situation. She simply didn’t have the vocabulary, confidence, pronunciation, and etc. to come forward and speak with her home-stay coordinator about it. So I prepared a lesson around the problem. I included a textbook passage on “Noisy Neighbours” to focus on vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar. The passage had a few reading comprehension and grammar exercises so we used them in class. I also added a newspaper article about a city’s noisy streets and traffic noise as a discussion piece – we spent almost an hour discussing the article which let her use the vocabulary and grammar while speaking and also practice discussing the topic. I also added a great free podcast in order to enhance listening comprehension, that I downloaded from a website and I also included the transcript of it so my student had a reference to look at when she was listening to the recording at home. The podcast was a story about a noisy neighbour and it was written and read in a funny way so it added some humour to the situation. After all this, my student told me she felt confident to speak with her coordinator and in a couple of weeks she was moved to a new home in a much quieter part of town.
The idea of including different technology into your teaching is not in order to show off to your students that you are tech-savvy. It is to help you teach. So if using cell phones and texting in class is not effective to teach grammar, then you don’t use cell phones and texting in your teaching. It is as simple as that.