Attention Please….

The beauty of watching a recorded etmooc session, means that I can stop half way in and respond to ideas whilst they are fresh before returning to the session. As I write this I am 26 minutes into Howard Rheingold’s session – Literacies of Attention, Crap Detection, Participation, Collaboration & Network Know-How.

The discussion is currently focussed on how we pay “attention to intention”.  Whether some people are genuine “super taskers” and whether they were born this way or have somehow developed the skill. Some people within the chat admit to being able to multi-task but as Alec Couros @courosa asked is this actually just “continuous partial attention“!

I would love to say I am a “super tasker” but in reality I just like to have my hand in everything and I am constantly seeking information. This means that my reader is exploding, my tabs are often in excess of 20 and I stay up late reading and sorting. This I don’t begrudge, because I love discovering and sharing my learning, plus there are just not enough hours in the day to see the latest goat screaming clips!

Using Diigo and TweetDeck to filter and keep organised has had a huge impact for me. I also have a TO DO list on my notes shared between my phone and iPad which keeps me on track for the things I have prioritised. I find it helps me keep focused on the important tasks.

There is no doubt I am a busy person and fairly organised, but can I actually attend to two tasks that require more than motor memory at the same time with precision or appropriate attention? Sure I can cook dinner, hold a conversation with the kids, and pay bills on the phone at the same time, but these are things that do not require real attention for me because I have done them numerous times. If I was cooking a meal I had never made before and needed to follow a recipe, having a conversation with someone I was unfamiliar with and finding an alternative insurance plan online, would I do any of these things successfully?  I think not! I think it would result in disappointing and possibly unsavoury meal, a disconnected conversation of which I would remember little and a search I would have to complete again!

Some of the participants asked for strategies to become better at mindfulness/attention. Howard suggested a couple of “probes” to engage students in class.

via Wikipedia

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson via Wikipedia

I have always played word games in the car with my own kids. When they were little it was “I-Spy” and remembering the previous guesses and clues was essential. Lately it is more word association games, where a topic is chosen and you have to name things related or within that category eg. names of dinosaurs.  If a name is repeated, that participant is out!

My children and I are fairly competitive in these games and we enjoy playing them whilst travelling to and from school.  I had never actually made the connection that these little games could actually improve their attention.

Is there something to be said for some of the games we play in early childhood that contribute to our attention state or our ability to focus on what is important?

In this TED talk Richard Gill (Australian Composer) talks about the role of music in education and gives a live example of evoking attention with his audience participation.


4 thoughts on “Attention Please….

  1. Thanks for sharing these reflections Rhoni. I hadn’t stopped to think about the benefits of the recorded sessions for this course, although I’ve found similar things while watching archives for the #MediaLabCourse I’m taking. I have to say that while I feel happy to pause and take notes during a session, I think I would feel a little hesitant about stopping to actually blog before seeing the whole presentation. Sort of a feeling of “if I blog about this idea now and then 10 minutes later in the archive I completely change my mind, I’ll be stuck!” I guess there’s benefit in that happening though and it certainly would create a lot of new material for a follow-up post about if/how/why my ideas changed … maybe I’ll have to give it a try. 🙂

    • Absolutely Margaret! I love when my ideas are challenged and I can reflect and see how my approach, attitude or beliefs have changed. I think it’s great that I now have a record of my growth as a learner via my blogs. I don’t have a lot of choice regarding how I access the etmooc sessions, as they are always “live” during my working hours (living in Australia). I do enjoy being able to actively participate in the sessions, however there are definite benefits to having a pause button!
      Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

  2. Hi Rhoni:

    I, too, really found this part of Rheingold’s presentation thought-provoking. I had just recently started using Twitter backchannels at conferences, and then during the live ETMOOC presentations I was engaging in the chats on the side in a similar manner. But then Rheingold’s presentation brought it home to me that while I tweet or chat, I’m taking attention off the other thing I am doing at the same time. I found that happened during another ETMOOC presentation, when I was doing Twitter on the side, and I can hardly remember anything from that presentation even though I felt like I was engaged in it. I definitely am NOT a supertasker, and am just switching my attention back and forth. That’s okay, as you point out, for things that don’t need a lot of focused attention (making food you’ve made before, paying bills, etc.), but not when you’re trying to learn something.

    Which makes me wonder: at my university (Univ. of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC) some classes are using Twitter backchannels, or an in-house version that’s similar, so that students can give comments and post questions during class. It’s shown in a screen at the same time as the lecture, and usually TAs are in charge of moderating it, answering questions, or what have you. I can see the appeal, having participated in those kinds of chats during ETMOOC presentations. But does it mean that many students are less likely to learn during the class? Maybe if their comments and questions are directly related to the class it’s different. And it’s not like they aren’t doing other things during class on their computers and phones anyway; this way they might be inclined to engage their digital selves with the class itself.

    But might be be encouraging, thereby, multiple partial attentions, resulting in less learning? Just a question I have.

    Loved Gill’s TED talk!

    • I absolutely think it is something worth investigating further. I recently found myself at a conference where the speaker was addressing ideas that I had heard before. Two of my colleagues and I sat with our iPads checking and responding emails and catching up on the twitter stream. The presenter may have said something interesting but by the time I had realised she was addressing a new topic, I could no longer follow along! Is the answer to check all technology at the door? I sure hope not. I do think that when an audience is engaged in the delivery, opportunities to contribute immediately can provoke deeper learning.

      Thanks for contributing your thoughts 🙂

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