Blog Post

Q & A: The Future of Thinking

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*Disclaimer from the Hastac team: This is a legacy page for the HASTAC 2010 conference. Please note not all links work or link to pages that no longer exist*

This page is the official home for discussion of Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg's keynote conversation on The Future of Thinking at Virtual HASTAC. The video will be is now available on the HASTAC 2010 site and also here on this page at noon EDT on Thursday, April 14th.

There will also be discussion in Google Wave. Click here to visit the official Wave for The Future of Thinking at Virtual HASTAC.



Hi, everyone,

Here is the conversation that happened just before their was a glitch in Google Wave. . .

One way I've begun to find a way past screen-induced passivity in the physical classroom is to ask students using laptops to engage in a parallel discussion of our classroom topics via twitter or meebo, a parallel conversation I share onscreen with the class during discussion breaks or pauses.

I think screen passivity and selective attention have analalogues in the sort of learned passivity that students engage in classroom and other collective experiences in the academic publics we construct (and they experience). Maybe some of the examples Cathy suggests for recentering the classroom experience on thinking and application rather than simply "learning" could help shift students and their teachers out of old habits.

11:54 am

I also like the parallel discussion method but some students find that difficult so it seems as if one thing that the present era makes explicit is something we have long known: that there are many different styles of learning and attention. I personally can barely sit through a lecture. And in my original field of literature, the method is to stand up and read, word for word, the paper you have written and for every one person who does that with some consideration that there is an audience there are 100 who think we are not there and, frankly, I tune out (without even a mobile phone), too. So the point is attention is variable but, as with all cognition, we focus on what is different from our pattern rather than going back to the baseline of asking "what is attention anyway?"

The parallel discussion idea is something I started almost as an act of desperation, and I really like the Google jockey idea. Students tend to offer the Googling *anyway* -- so why not actively include it? Great idea.

Also, the close your eyes for five minutes idea -- asking the students to actually focus and track attention -- seems both perfect and radical. I've experimented with intentional distraction, or a distraction-rich environment, but having a moment set aside for focus: I love that. Thank you.

Yes. I like to remind my students as often as I can that we are physical bodies. And this, in a new media class...

Indeed, the classroom setting as a whole does seem to have that stupefying effect sometimes--especially on sunny days! I'm simply interested in getting as much inspiration as possible for new ways to implement collaborative tools in the classroom; to use those laptops, to be glad they're there. Thanks for your input on that; the parallel discussion is something I've tried but found somewhat distracting for the students.

12:07 pm
Global Challenge:

Next generation assessment

Thanks, Cathy and David, for an engaging and thoughtful talk. I'm especially interested in what you were both saying about the physicality/materiality of the computer itself within the classroom; the laptop, in particular. Of course, much has been written and discussed about the effects of internet use on the attention spans of the (socalled) "digital natives". I'm not opposed in general to laptop use in class, mostly because it seems inevitable, and there are so many valid pedagogical goals that we can best meet with computers in the classroom. Yet there does seem to be a sort of passivity that comes over some of my students when they begin to interact with their screens...perhaps a result of the passivity they've learned from contact with other types of screens (television, film). I'd love to hear what you or others have to say about keeping computer use in class lively, direct, positive and useful--busting out of that passive viewing mode they are often lulled into.

11:50 am

Thanks for writing. Actually I'm in conversation with someone who is doing a study of attention not as we perceive it among younger people but as they perceive it and they find themselves paying far LESS attention, in her survey work,. when they are listening (and bored) versus when they feel they are using media to keep them alert. This parallels research in the 1980s with truck drivers, life guards, and others having trouble with high boredom jobs that require instant reflexes. The solution then: talk radio! I'm being a bit facetious but not much. The passive staring faces, though, is an issue and I'm not sure how to get around that except that I ask my students to be Google Jockeys and am constantly doing a patter where I will say, someone Google that and tell us what you find, so I make the affordance of the computer part of the thought process in the class.

Thanks for mentioning that study...I have a similar response to passive listening (tune-out), especially in faculty meetings...but that's another story. (ha) It is fascinating, though, the way we can watch their attention flicker in and out, from screen to me to each other; it's challenged me to be even more engaged in the classroom, to do much more interactive work, to get them doing a lot of the "teaching" on some subjects. And I love the term "Google jockey"...

12:00 pm

Actually, when you say "that's another story" I personally believe it is the SAME story but we've had a century of training in the discrete separation of what does or does not constitute attention to task that makes us divide up "work" and "not work" and "attention" and "not attention" that aren't anything like "natural"--that is not how a new born sees the world and it is tremendously various from culture to culture. But capitalism and the assembly line and the work place are all requiring of a certain kind of attention and we have perfected institutions of education and work that, for a hundred years, trained us to a particular way of seeing. The modern office building is the same. So now we are seeing tremendous variations in this way of seeing but we do not have corresponding instituitonal change. So we feel and perceive and pay attention to the disparity without realizing that there are many other things we could be paying attention to. Difference is what gets our goat and thus gets our attention.

12:02 pm

I think Google Wave needs some emoticons for tone! I should have said I knew you were being facetious but I liked the turn of phrase very much so turned it again!

I was being a little facetious myself with the "different story" remark, but again, only a little. And we definitely need those emoticons!

But in any case...I so definitely see what you're saying. (I guess we could go back to the old-fashioned smileys? ;) ) Wondering though whether you're saying that we need to revise our views perhaps of what constitutes "paying attention" in the classroom or other institutional settings? Of what "full" or "good" attention is?

Because that makes a lot of sense to me, just instinctively...someone sitting in on one of my classes recently remarked afterward about how strange it was to see all those laptops open with pages of notes, the course web site, AND e-mail and other nonsense going on. And I stopped to think, should I be bothered by this? Because I'm almost always, or often, very happy with my students' work.

12:07 pm

*_* that is how my Japanese students made smiley faces before the emoticoms even. I think we need to revise our idea of attention everywhere where we feel agitated, out of step, or where we're beating ourselves up about not doing a good job, that we're multitasking and not doing well at it and so forth. Whenever we feel like we're failing or that our students are, then I wish a gigantic emoticom came up to smile peacefully and remind us that we are in a transitional moment when lots of our reflexes now have to be thought and rethou

11:46 am



This is the first time I've ever heard of an instructor encouraging students to use twitter or facebook while listening to a lecture.  Interesting way to flip the common scenerio of young people wanting to tune into their devicces more than their teachers so that they end up doing both in the direction you are trying to direct their thoughts.