Paying Attention

I’ve been mulling over a conference presentation I’m doing this Spring (Computers and Writing 2010) and I was happy to find that some current research has confirmed a set of ideas that I’ve had for a while. Or, rather, they confirm that some basic ideas need rethinking. It’s a kind of cliche in my field to say that students know more than their teachers about technology. In fact, what I have observed is that students know different things about technology or even different technologies than their teachers.

A recent Pew study (“Social Media and Young Adults“) confirms this in several ways, noting, for example, that teenagers rarely use Twitter. The study also confirms the importance of fads in technology, suggesting, for example, that the blog has begun to fade. There’s also increasing evidence that another of our basic notions– that students are better multitasking– is wrong. It turns out that multitasking feels great but doesn’t work well if you want to retain knowledge (“Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford study shows“).

Multitasking seems best suited for busy work that doesn’t require concentration; it also seems unsuited for the sorts of learning we do in the classroom. So teenagers turn out to be just teenagers: suspect to trendy, short lived enthusiasms and resistant to the sorts of focused efforts demanded by teachers. My hope is that this bodes well for writing instruction, at least to the extent that we can drop the hype and can get back to our roots as a discipline rooted in the cultivation of contemplative thought.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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