Take the Multitasking Challenge at MyPopStudio!

mypopstudio.jpgI was raised in a ‘question authority’ family of intellectual gamesmanship. When my Dad would cite stats as facts in know-it-all style, my Mom would trot out How to Lie with Statistics and take him down a notch, grounding him in reality. Such is the case with statistical hullabaloo about today’s wired kids being such hot shots at multitasking…

Mind you, I’m writing this with eight windows open myself, so I’m no stranger to multitasking…but this article cites new studies with University scientists at Oxford, Vanderbilt & Michigan summing, “the human brain, deft though it may be, still isn’t made to handle two things at once.” Hmn.

Kids will assure you they can Google their homework while IMing their friends with tunes in the background and “oh, gee, I like that lyric, I’d better open a window and find it” proficiency.

I’ll bet you can show kids this Time feature, this amusingly eloquent blog by The Annoyed Librarian, official KFF studies on “generation M,” or Common Sense Media’s roundup on academic performance…and STILL get bupkiss in behavioral change.

Am I right? Time for digital ammo…MyPopStudio is an interactive media literacy tool you’re gonna love! MyPopStudio has a multitasking game reminiscent of Concentration, giving kids those ‘aha’ moments without parent-prodding and tsk-tsking.

It turns a parent-child tug-o-war into a family fun fest with show-n-tell media that answers the universal query, “Is multitasking good, bad or both?” Without being heavy-handed, this experiential game challenges each child to test their own multitasking skills. Brilliant.

Some kids will do better than others matching the celebrity pics in a memory game while keeping an eye on the music video channel and sorting ‘fun facts’ to boot.

But hey, it’s not YOUR fault if it happens to prove your point, eh?

No judgment, just critical thinking skills at work, and some interesting new brain research among tweens, too.

The Media Lab at Temple University has done a fabulous job with digital media literacy targeting 9-14 year old girls. They’ve evolved and improved even more since their impressive launch last year. (reviewed here)

I’ve been ‘saving’ a full feature about MyPopStudio until Shaping Youth seeded itself into critical mass…but our readership has already grown in leaps and bounds, so I’m going to start focusing on different aspects of their media literacy site in small chunks.

There’s a lot to cover in one fell swoop, and it’s ALL important and worthy, so consider this multitasking piece only a tiny blip.

Here’s Henry Jenkins’ in-depth interview with Renee Hobbs (Creator of MyPopStudio and co-founder of AMLA –Alliance for a Media Literate America) just to give you a feel for the scope, depth, credentials and vision of the site we’ll be delving into topic by topic.

I spoke at length with her protegé, Assoc. Director of the Media Lab, Sherri Hope Culver in the fall when they first launched, explaining that we were giving our Shaping Youth tween advisors the reins at MyPopStudio in order to glean our own data as to how kids would initially interact with their material.

We wanted to ‘blind-test’ the main media messages received, to see whether the execution was ‘working’ for inclusion in our counter-marketing programs. (We often send kids online for media homework)

MyPopStudio is my all-time favorite for ‘multitasking’ demos; just like we use the ‘cereal box’ interactive from pbskids to reveal branding tactics and label literacy in our nutrition counter-marketing.

Ironically, our tweens assigned to visit MyPopStudio’s digital portion for multitasking couldn’t get past the fun “create your own popsong, submit it to the song charts for peer rating/American Idol style” aspects initially.

The girls kept wanting to engage, check back constantly, see if anyone ‘commented’ on their creations and such…

Result? It turned into ‘unintentional’ multitasking research for me!

It immediately validated that MyPopStudio’s chat, user-generated content, and social sharing is huge among tweens, but it ALSO told me that as ‘multitaskers,’ the minute kids find something ‘new and exciting’ they veer off course in what I call the ‘shiny penny syndrome.’

“Oooh…lookie here, this is cool!”

Whammo, there goes the focus…

Much has been researched in terms of multitasking/ADHD deficits, and the disconcerting notion of breeding a generation of ADD media kids…So I played with this concept a bit myself on a field trip to San Francisco’s Exploratorium with middle schoolers (6th graders) last week.

The kids would ping from exhibit to exhibit fiddling with the hands-on experiments without reading the signage as to the purpose.

Most commonly asked query, “What does this thing do?”

Before I could even answer, they’d zing off to another tactile zone, and pingback only if their curiosity was piqued enough, usually with something else in hand to show me or tell me about making a note or giving it another go.

Is this multitasking retention?

Average time spent in one spot? 5 seconds. And in digital media, that’s light years.

Granted, kids DID have recall of ‘favorites’ but their knowledge was cursory at best, which makes me wonder if kids are being exposed to more, but learning less.

This Washington Post article specifically eludes to this lack of analysis.

What happens when kids have ‘too many irons in the fire’?

I turned to some of the comments in the Chronicle of Higher Education to see what educators had to say about statistics, media, and multitasking millenials.

Whoa. Some of the most erudite analysis and commentary I’ve seen in awhile…Whether I agree or disagree is largely irrelevant, the fact that thoughts were expressed so vividly and eloquently makes my heart smile.

This academic’s comment on kids’ multitasking acumen caught my eye:

“Why are we wasting our time on such cow plop and why do we insist on giving credence to research that apparently cannot find its way beyond the environs of LA or New York … surely, there is more country in the country than that.

Good grief, we have proof on a daily basis that our current crop of students cannot multi-task.

Most cannot complete a decent sentence, one sentence at a time, let alone do it in separate taskings during the course of an hour.

Time for academicians (read: real researchers), reason and skilled investigators to take back the task of investigating the multi-layered, multi-dimensional, multi-skilled task of assessing and describing the complexities of culture, society, and the peoples who populate an era. It would also be useful and helpful for the media outlets to actually publish the research reports accurately without bias or political agenda.”

Wow. Take that, pundits and media mavens. (ouch!)

And this Scholastic article took a neuroscience approach:

“The brain is a lot like a computer,” says William R. Stixrud, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist in Silver Spring, Maryland. “You may have several screens open on your desktop, but you’re able to think about only one at a time.” When a child is doing homework for two minutes, then answering instant-messages for another two, then shifting back to homework, and so on, the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (the brain’s administrative assistant) must choreograph all those conflicting moves. The result: he works more slowly, less thoroughly. For those struggling with attention disorders, the problems may be magnified.

“Jumping back and forth to monitor different mediums is stressful,” says Susan J. Schwartz, Ed.D., clinical director of the Institute for Learning and Academic Achievement at New York University’s Child Study Center. “No one learns well under stress.”

Problem with ONLY using Ivory Tower data or scientific analysis is that real world experience counts too. Musings in the blogosphere, in parenting, in the trenches as a whole…should not be discounted or underplayed.

We are all observers of the human condition…

When dialogue is opened collaboratively and inclusively with youth, we can ALL learn from each other. New perspectives spring from engagement on multi-levels, and though pragmatics may change, we can all be enriched.

Example? Our counter-marketing has been successful in Title One schools surprising many educators who considered these kids ‘unteachable’ due to ADD/multitasking propensity…We altered the way we presented the material into shorter, snappy chunks like ‘media sound bites,’ and even created our own lexicon like “threep it.”

Rotating stations allowed the kids to move on to something else quickly. Experiential, hands-on style replaced the ‘preach-n-teach’ classroom format.

Does it sadden me that I have to get my info across in bursts of media-manufactured shallowness, and remove multitasking temptations for full focus wherever I’m able?

Yes, I definitely am concerned with short attention spans…But look in the mirror. Adults are evolving in new directions, with multitasking and sound bites as normative too.

Chances are, most of you won’t be reading these words, because you scanned the first two paragraphs, snagged the links you needed and moved on.

I know this through our analytics. (which is why when we officially launch, you’ll be able to opt for a brief logline version, or view snippets, Tumblr style)

The whole multitasking conundrum proves to me that you should be ‘present wherever you are’ in any given moment…or as the sign on my wall says, “If your position is everywhere, your momentum is zero.”

Working with kids of all ages proves to me that learning is evolutionary, and adaptation’s necessary if we want to engage, enlighten, and inform. It’s not an ‘either/or’ concept.

New media environs can be a tool for parents and educators to ‘sell their own message’ to kids, whether it’s the multitasking example at MyPopStudio…or the counter-marketing we do at Shaping Youth.

Um…You might not want to engage kids on this point at the same time you’re cooking dinner, feeding the dog, bopping to music, reading the articles I mentioned, showing kids the website, dodging telemarketers with CallerID and lecturing with your mouthful though.

Street cred counts…Focus, focus, focus!



  1. Okay, so I’m re-reading this from when I first wrote it awhile back…and those ‘8 windows open’ are now more like 80 tabs in Firefox…This is in ONE year’s time…What does that mean about information and data overload in our culture?

    How are we being ‘trained’ to assess multiple data chunks in our collective knowledge pool simultaneously?

    I was just discussing this off-line with an educator in France, who said teachers were facing the ‘continuous divided attention’ phenom…and I realize I have become (and/or adapted into) one and the same.

    eep! Time for a solid look at all of this…and a new blog post on it too…

    As I just wrote back to her (Pamela Poole) I said, “I KNOW the potential is there to harvest enthusiasm for learning if it’s not ‘preach and teach’ and instead is more of ‘informal learning’ via motivators and social media used for common goods…

    Whether it’s cellphone/smart mobs/texting for activism/fundraising, or online to offline building bridges of cultural understanding, there’s much to be gained if we make sure we keep a keen eye on ‘nature deficit disorder’ and other mouse-click soul erosion (I heard Richard Louv speak recently in S.F. and he talked about the irony of the eco-click kids that are so ’empowered to save the environment with a click’ yet wouldn’t know poison ivy on a nature hike if it was right in front of ’em. Thought that pretty much summed it up!” 😉

    And now I look at myself and wonder how I accelerated into this multi-tasking CDA type of being so fast and oblivious…

    wow. wow. wow.

  2. Another good one here from NPR on “multitasking teens may be muddling their brains”


  3. Another good one here from “Newborn Rodeo” called Teenage Wasteland. (this guy’s got some good writing too…need to add him to my reader!)


  4. And…the most comprehensive one of all today comes from Laurie Bartels over at Neurons Firing:


    With links up the wazoo to studies and evidence that I need to review myself…Clearly I’ve been ‘drinking the KoolAid’ on the multi-tasking tab front…but I realize I may very well be using these tabs as ‘holding tanks’ for my memory jogs rather than really any sort of multi-tasking prowess or filter being able to shift gears and go back and forth.

    In fact, I use my FB links the same way. I see something interesting and post the link…knowing I won’t lose it on my messy desk! (yah, I know, cluttered desk, cluttered brain)

    😉 Indeed!!!

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