Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Many of us have spoken to our students about their not-so-successful (and admittedly, often annoying) efforts at multi-tasking. Some of feel like we might have to multitask, all too often, ourselves. And then there's "texting-and-driving." This weekend, the Chronicle of Higher Ed took up the issue. As David Glenn writes,

"Students' minds have been wandering since the dawn of education. But until recently—so the worry goes—students at least knew when they had checked out. A student today who moves his attention rapid-fire from text-messaging to the lecture to Facebook to note-taking and back again may walk away from the class feeling buzzed and alert, with a sense that he has absorbed much more of the lesson than he actually has" ("Divided Attention," CHE 1.31.10).

Citing a study by Stanford psychologists Clifford Nass et al., Glenn worries about whether students' attentional habits have fundamentally changed. But there are opposing views. According to contemporary literature scholar N. Katherine Hayles,

"One of the basic tenets of good teaching is that you have to start where the students are....And once you find out where they are, a good teacher can lead them almost anywhere. Students today don't start in deep attention. They start in hyper attention. And our pedagogical challenge will be to combine hyper attention with deep attention and to cultivate both. And we can't do that if we start by stigmatizing hyper attention as inferior thinking" ("Divided Attention").

Read the rest of the article here. And here's a little quiz on how well we multitask, courtesy of the New York Times. What do you think? Should we attempt to stem the tide, forbidding laptops from our classrooms among other measures? How do we adapt to students who conceive of attention, work, reading, and communication in fundamentally new ways? I'd love to hear your comments, as we eat, prep, and grade our way to this morning's faculty meeting. And please don't text-and-drive...

1 comment:

  1. In class, I'd like for us all to do our best to focus on one task -- whatever we're up to in class. That's strikes me as part of a social contract we all implicitly sign onto.

    Along the lines of harnessing hyper attention and focusing it on the task at hand (if that even makes sense), I came across a tool that might be relevant:

    I haven't tried it, but it looks interesting.