One of my summer projects is taking an online course to fulfill the requirements for a “professional learning unit,” the new vehicle by which Alabama administrators renew their certificates.

One assignment asked the question, “What differences do you see between you as a student and the students of today?” Here is my reply:

I think the issue has to do more with the change in the environment than the change in the person. Students today were not genetically wired any differently than a generation ago. They are products of their environment, and it is an environment which offers far more choices than we knew as students.

I grew up with 3 TV channels (4 if the weather was just right), a radio, a turntable, one telephone in the house, and print media. Of those, the only one of them which was portable was print. In addition, only one held any type of suspense–the phone. Will it ring? If so, who will it be? The environment pretty much lent itself to focusing on the task at hand.

Contrast that scenario to the student of today who has access to over 100 channels, a go-anywhere iPod, go-anywhere cell phone (which rings, delivers text messages, and delivers e-mail), the internet, instant messaging, Facebook, MySpace, etc. The ability to take the cell phone anywhere means students are prone to being interrupted anywhere or interrupting themselves from anywhere and at any time. Curious about who may have sent an e-mail or left something on Facebook, self-interruption fragments their time.

The readings put a positive spin on “multitasking.” Notice the dates–2001 and 2005. That’s a long time ago in the world of technology. I did a Google search for “multitasking studies.” Click the link and see if you get the same impression of what current thought says about multitasking as I did.

What all of this says to me is that time is as finite as it ever has been, yet the demands on that time grow. Our students have two choices. The first is to allow technology to be the master as they allow themselves to overwhelmed with new piece of input feeling as if there is no other choice. The results is that they do twice as much half as well, a result that looks like this video:

The other choice is for our students to use technology as a tool. Let technology perform a Google search that will return more relevant information in 2 seconds than two days in the stacks of the local library would yield. Use the “found time” for endeavors that require creative thought. Let Excel crunch the numbers in 2 seconds instead of spending 2 hours with the calculator. Use the “found time” to focus on something of quality.

In a world filled with choices and where interruptions and diversions abound, self-discipline and the ability to focus are going to be the keys to accomplish anything of substance. Like anything else, teachers are being looked to for guidance in this area. That’s why we’ve got to be on the forefront, learning.

The frightening thing is that if someone is going to teach our young people how to use technology as a servant rather than letting it be the master, that someone is going to be us, the “digital immigrants.”