Blog Post

Distraction = Opportunity to Make an Effort To Change


We are members of a class at University of Maryland, called Networked Intelligence (  This semester we are wrestling with ideas about how networked technologies and our information-rich worlds change the way we learn, live, and collaborate.  In response to a wonderful letter that Dr. Davidson sent us, we will post a weekly blog that summarizes the big thoughts from our own peers' writings and class discussion.  Please feel free to connect with us and add to our networked learning.

This week we finished reading Now You See It, from Dr. Cathy Davidson (after reading The Shallows by Nicholas Carr).  Each individual in our class picked out different elements of the book that resonated with them, but a couple of big themes emerged for us this week.  Several of us agreed with Dr. Davidson, that placing the blame on outside sources (e.g. blaming technology for lack of attention spans) blinds us to the positive changes that new developments bring, and shields us from taking advantage of learning opportunities.  Not everything should be effortless, in fact, when one is uncomfortable, that distraction is a key indicator that we might have the opportunity to learn something new (see ChrisCieraPamelaVineet).

The "distractions" in our daily lives actually signal deep changes afoot in the world.  The jobs we will take after college do not resemble what we do in the classroom whatsoever.  In the "real world" we're asked to multi-task, work with others, and shift our attention across content areas, different cultures due to globalization, and new technologies.  Our college classes might better prepare us for these futures by actually engaging us in meaningful projects, that require deep thinking, decision making (like good games do?! (Amy) ), and collaborative work.  We forget everything we cram for our tests.  But we don't forget deeply interactive and engaging learning experiences.  Life is not a multiple choice test! (DidiAlysiaDelaneyAndrewElla).

In the end we began to see that distraction (from our social networks, information feeds, games, activities etc) is not a bad thing.  It opens up new opportunities - a break from an ineffective thought that we can go back to later (Jennifer), new ideas, or novel pathways to pursue.  Paying attention to what distracts us and why also relates to us as students... in some ways, we should pay attention to "why" we're distracted in a given class.  If I prefer to check Facebook instead of listening to a lecture or engaging in class discussion, why is this?  Sometimes it might be that a class or professor is not engaging, so perhaps it's within our power to suggest ways to improve class.  Other times, it really is just that students are not controlling their distraction, and we must do a better job managing our own stimuli.  Students need to be just as responsible to stay engaged in learning, and matching the effort that their professors put in to the education process.  In the end, as Jenna states "Yes, the Internet can be a distracting place, but so can a notebook and pen. It is all about mindset."  When we pay attention to our distraction, and think critically about what it means for our own learning, we gain agency.  We no longer blame Facebook for distracting us from class, heck we just doodled in our notebooks when we didn't have laptops.  Instead, we realize that we alone are responsible for being active learners, and choosing carefully what we pay attention to to better ourselves and our peers.



Thanks so much for shifting this from your class blog to a public HASTAC blog.   I love this for two reasons:  (1) your students write so incisively and generously about NOW YOU SEE IT and, as an author, that is so meaningful.  I learn from their responses.   I hope to write some small "how to" books, including one for "How to Remix the College Classroom," and I will certainly showcase your class as an example.   And (2) now anyone in the HASTAC network or well beyond, who sees our tweets, will be able to learn from what your students say and what you, as a prof, have allowed.   That's how we "network" our "Intelligence."   So form and content are perfect here.


Also, did I mention (1):   this just makes me happy.  Thank you--to you and your students!


Thanks for sharing this. I also recently led a book discussion on Now You See It, and its great to see some different responses. It seems like your class epitomizes the idea of learning through distraction...this approach is infectious! I hope classes like yours start and epidemic!