Task selection, task switching and multitasking during computer-based independent study
Detailed logs of students’ computer use, during independent study sessions, were captured in an open-access computer laboratory. Each log consisted of a chronological sequence of tasks representing either the application or the Internet domain displayed in the workstation’s active window. Each task was classified using a three-tier schema according to its likely context of use: The top-level categories being Academic, Communication, Information, Recreation and Applications. Students switched tasks frequently – median task duration was only 31 seconds. Approximately 30% of all tasks were Academic with the majority of these involving the university’s learning management system. Communication and Recreation tasks accounted for 18% and 9% of tasks respectively. Up to one half of all tasks were not related to study. Multitasking was very common during independent study sessions, particularly when Communication tasks were active. This study confirms that students are likely to regularly switch tasks, attend to distracting tasks, and multitask during independent study. Each one of these behaviours has the potential to negatively impact on students’ learning, and when combined they indicate that students are relatively inefficient at managing competing tasks and their time when studying.
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