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  • 2020usmanphd

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Using the Pomodoro Technique® to help undergraduate students better manage technology-based multitasking during independent study: A design-based research investigation

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Salman Usman
Publication date2020
Number of pages294
Awarding Institution
Award date9/09/2020
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The issue of student multitasking is debated often in higher education, for example when discussing whether ‘digital native’ students can naturally multitask when using technology. Yet some students do continue to struggle with multitasking, especially when undertaking self-directed study using digital devices, and there have been few empirical investigations into how to support those students.

In this thesis, I seek to investigate the effectiveness of a popular time management technique, the Pomodoro Technique® (PT), in helping students better manage technology-based multitasking during independent study. To this end, I describe a design-based research investigation comprising four cycles/iterations, dedicated in turn to understanding the reasons students multitask (cycle 1), exploring and refining the use of the technique (cycles 2-3) and following the use of the refined technique by students over two months (cycle 4). Participants were twelve undergraduate students at a UK university who self-identified as struggling with multitasking. Data collection included participant diary records and periodic interviews.

Findings reveal that participants’ reasons for multitasking were varied. Most participants found the PT® helpful for addressing their multitasking. However, there was little consensus on how the PT® helped participants or which aspects were helpful, with the same aspects (e.g. ticking timer, deferring potential interruptions) identified as helpful or ineffective by different participants. The effectiveness of the technique was also impacted by contextual factors such as assessment deadlines and unconducive study environments. Overall, it seems important that students allow enough time to get used to the technique, and that they reflect on and modify how they use the technique to suit their context under appropriate guidance.

The thesis contributes to the literature on student multitasking in higher education. It presents one of the first evidenced-based investigations of managing multitasking (and one of the first formal evaluation of the PT® in an academic context). The findings highlight previously overlooked reasons for student multitasking, such as the convergent use of online platforms for both study and non-study-related activities, and emphasise that technology and non-technology-based reasons for multitasking can be closely related. The thesis also argues that scholars working on student multitasking should be aware of issues highlighted in other areas of literature, such as in studies of self-efficacy and human visual processing.