Whenever a new scandal breaks involving celebrities or politicians you hear the accused person claiming that their comments were taken out of context. If we had only heard the full conversation or read a previous article we would have realised that their intentions were good even if one small quote could be misinterpreted. The problem is that today we only hear the sound bites or choice quotes and almost no-one has time to check the context. If you make a statement, give a lecture, take part in an interview or panel debate you can never know which string of words will be picked up and take on a life of their own. Someone in the audience will happen to hear one sentence, write it down with one or two unconscious changes and broadcast it on Facebook or Twitter. Once out there anything can happen in a digital game of Chinese whispers. No matter who you are you need to realise that your audience only receives a nugget or two of your message and more often than not what they understand is out of context. Many read only part of a blogpost or see a tweet quoting a few words and then use that to support their own opinions.
I have developed over the years my own structured communication plan using different channels (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc) for specific purposes. It all makes sense to me and naively assumes that there are people out there that will follow the whole concept. If anyone did they would be so impressed by my well-crafted approach to disseminating my observations and news ;-)
Similarly organisations and companies meticulously plan their their media channels to create a coherent communication strategy on the assumption that someone out there will see that coherence.
But sadly nobody does! We zap quickly from one source to another and pass on fragments to friends who pass on fragments of those fragments.
The message is never to assume that anyone is really listening and that you need to continually reinforce your message on many channels hoping that some of your message will stick. This is nicely highlighted in a post by Harold Jarche called nobody pays attention.
In a world of general attention deficit disorder, understanding that nobody has understood what you have produced is a critical foundation for communication, especially in business. Assume that nobody has read what you have written. For those rare exceptions, assume they have interpreted it in a manner other than intended.
So how does this apply to education? We can't assume that students have all approached the topic in the same way and share a common foundation. With so many sources to choose between they will click on the links that intrigue them most and follow the leads offered by their networks. The selected readings that you choose with great care may or may not be read. You have less time than ever before to catch students' attention and there are always more attractive distractions competing for their attention. In some ways this is a healthy situation in that students are now able to find their own sources and access a wider range of opinions and perspectives than before. However in this fragmented reality it is more important than ever to focus on three critical literacies: filtering, source criticism and attention. It is essential to be able to filter the content we find, check its credibility and cross-check with other sources and finally develop the ability to sometimes switch off all our distractors and concentrate on an article, book, discussion or lecture. We can't turn the clock back to a more manageable past but need to ensure that students (and ourselves) have the tools to make sense of our increasingly fragmented and distraction-filled world.