In my readings I have come across discussion about the "attention" students pay when in class - especially in college courses where they all come with laptops and smart phones. One school of thought is that this is how the learner interacts with the content being discussed. With my internet linked device, I can look up info on the teacher's credentials, get a definition of a word or concept mentioned and read ahead in the text book while gathering additional sources...or, I can update my status on facebook. The point being, some students will choose to pay attention and engage and some will not, whether there is a laptop involved or a pen and piece of paper for doodling.
The other thought is that attention is a skill to be learned and addressed. While teachers and professors should be always exploring new strategies to keep students engaged, the act of paying attention to one task for a reasonable amount of time now seems to be the exception rather than the rule and we can help prepare students by asking them to unplug once in a while.
As I search for new ways to engage students in building collaborative learning communities online, it also occurs to me that face to face discussion and learning needs to provide a balance to all the screen time. Even as a 40-something teacher, I get frustrated when I am out and about and can't look up the name of the welsh cheese I can't seem to find anywhere in town (too cheap to pay for a smartphone data plan). I get it. The Web is an incredible, addicting information and learning tool. I go to a local pub for Quiz Nite just to remind myself that I don't actually know anything unless I can look it up online. At the same time, the skills and value of face to face communication and interaction shouldn't go the same route as cursive writing. I don't think we can afford to allow our students to go into the world lacking the real world, real time social skills us oldsters take for granted.
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