Saturday, April 25, 2009

Attention please

I enjoyed reading an article (Attention literacy) by a guy called Howard Rheingold about his efforts to grab the attention of his students. It's a recurring theme in many edublogs and it's not clear whether everyone in class who are busy checking Facebook, MSN, eBay etc are skillful multi-taskers or are simply not paying attention to the class.

Howard teaches a course in social media and communication at Berkeley and his tactics were to film his students and show them what the class looked like from the front; "... I realized that none of the students knew what it feels like to stand up in front of a room full of people who are not watching me or each other, but appear to be hypnotized by something on their computer screens."

The interesting point here is that Howard has spent time with his class teaching the important skill of attention; something that is not instinctive and must be learnt. It's important sometimes to create space to be able to think without all the distractions available all around us. Insights and ideas often come to us in moments of silence or even boredom but if we constantly fill the spaces with noise we'll never be able to reflect.

Have a look at Howard's video on the subject:


  1. A fascinating video. Thanks for putting it up here. I'll be anxious to learn how this progresses. I am intrigued by attention and the problems which seem to have emerged with it in recent decades. ADD, ADHD seem so much more prevalent now. To be honest, I have thought that television is great training tool for inattention. Nothing lasts long, the pace is rapid - I know it is heresy but Sesame Street is a blueprint for ADHD. I know the argument - children have short attention spans so have to give them things in short bursts - but what does that train them to do - I would argue it trains them to remain attentional infants.

  2. You said that in class session one, you asked students to close their eyes for 60 MINUTES and see where their minds went. Did you really do this for 60 minutes? My students, particularly the ones in the 8:00 am class, would be asleep after 10 minutes.

  3. 10 minutes to fall asleep would be on the high side for me - 2 and a half maybe. But then, I would have medaled in Olympic napping if it were an event - long nap, short nap, cat nap...