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Why My Boss Lets Me Watch Netflix at Work

How design flaws in the classroom can actually become design benefits for employers.


Dual-monitor setups have become more popular in the workplace, though in the classroom they are perceived as design flaws.

It shocks my boss that I watch reruns of The West Wing at my desk. How could I so brazenly watch Netflix while trying to get work done? For me, a millennial political junkie, West Wing is comfort food, my equivalent of listening to soft music—it’s background noise that helps me focus and stay alert to what I’m doing. But just as my boss was initially skeptical about my foreign work habits, so too has academia been suspicious of technology in the classroom (don’t worry, that jump will make sense in a bit).


A recent study from MIT finds that students in classrooms that permit technology perform, on average, 18 percentage points lower on final exams than students in classrooms that restrict technology. In other words, the mere availability of laptops, tablets and smartphones may lead students to score more poorly on tests. Similar studies have argued that students who type notes absorb less than students who write notes long-hand. This suggests that the ease of technology impedes the development of foundational skills, such as math. In each case, the affordances of modern technology do not mesh with the design of modern classes.

To sum up this theory: (1) technology encourages distraction, and (2) technology discourages the need to develop rote memory. In terms of classroom performance, these design flaws produce poorer classroom performance.


What does this mean for the workplace?

But despite the weight of this evidence that technology “is bad”, I cannot help but wonder: I am perhaps myopically thinking of my own work experience, but to me, it would make sense that these negative traits of technology in the classroom are in fact positive traits in the workplace.

No workday for me is “typical” – unlike a traditional classroom, I’m not expected to sit at my desk for a desired length of time and then leave when the bell rings. Part of my work includes data analytics, so I use two screens simultaneously. I constantly use my phone to respond to work-related texts, emails, and messages from Slack, as well as manage my calendar and perhaps help a colleague look up some bit of information about a project. As the Lab’s social media manager, I regularly have a live Twitter stream (usually Tweetdeck) active in my browser.

Each of these tools—my second screen, my phone, Twitter, and so on—present tempting opportunities for distraction. But because I use them for work (it’s hard to develop a social media presence without using social media), the challenge for me is not how to ignore those distractions, but rather how to navigate them.


Design Flaws vs. Features

The design flaA person works at a desk while an iPhone tempts their distraction--design flaws or benefits?ws of technology-enabled classrooms, then, can become useful design features. Put yourself in the shoes of an employer looking to hire a project manager: Would you hire the candidate who proudly graduated college without ever once sending an email during a class, or the candidate who can dually take notes and send his boss an email during a meeting? How about another: Would you prefer an applicant who is easily distracted by office chatter, or one who can watch their favorite TV show and still produce deliverables quickly?


What’s next for higher ed?

Higher ed has an opportunity to foster the development of these skills by creating a space in the classroom to navigate technology, rather than ignore it. Just as my boss is concerned more with the deliverables I produce than what’s up on my screen, so too can higher ed institutions adapt to the rapidly changing needs of their students and the workplace.

Let us know in the comments…

What do you look for in new hires?

What are different ways you use technology as a professional?

Would you like to hear more about technology in classrooms and the workplace?


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