Mshin: An Authentic Question at Last

Mshin, in “How to keep their attention during a video or voiceover?” (10/7/13), says:

I am having trouble paying attention and staying interested when having to watch the [TOMOOC] webinars. And if I, who am very invested to pay attention, am having trouble keeping interest and not being distracted, then I imagine this is a problem for the general student populace.

Mshin, trying to pinpoint the problem, says, “It is too slow for me most of the time,” and nails it. Sitting and listening for an hour as a lecturer moves from point A to point B is mindnumbing. One fact is that we, as educators, are excellent readers. And unless we’re reading a novel, we seldom ever begin at the beginning and slog through a book, one word at a time, from cover to cover. Even before we go to the contents, we go to the jacket blurbs, intro, or conclusion to see what’s new or “information.” We then go to the contents to find relevant sections and scan them for key paragraphs then sentences. In quick order, we get to the gist, the specks of gold hidden in the rubble of other material.

From there, if we feel it’s necessary, we backtrack to identify key background info. Again, we don’t read but we scan, knowing intuitively where and what the keys are. And we do this quickly, in 5 to 10 minutes, regardless of the size of the book. We use a similar process with articles. Given the transcript of a webinar presentation, we’d work the same way. In a few minutes we’d know what, if anything, is new and worth pursuing, and in a few more minutes we’d be able to pinpoint the key background info. If we’re watching a video recording instead, this process takes a lot longer. If we’re at the live presentation, we’re stuck in the presenter’s mindnumbing pace.

Thus, ironically, the simplest medium, text, is a lot more efficient and effective than a live or recorded presentation — at least for those with efficient and effective reading skills. (And maybe there’s the rub.)

Mshin says, “While someone is talking about a part that is on a totally different subject matter for me it is so tempting to toggle over to check my email.” Yes. With TV, we all turn off during commercials and do other things, or during portions where the content doesn’t interest us, we tune out and tune in to other things around us. To do otherwise would be insane.

If we were in a one-on-one conversation with the presenter, we’d begin with a question that matters to us re the general topic of the talk. If the response is useful, we ask more questions. If the response is a rehash of what we already know, we say thank you and leave. We don’t hang around for the hour-long presentation.

Back to Mshin’s question: “How to keep their attention during a video or voiceover?” The simple answer is “We don’t.” And the implication is that this isn’t the right question. Perhaps we ought to be asking, “How do we give students the information they need in a way that isn’t boring?”

If we insist on lectures, perhaps, as Mshin says, fear — fear of being caught dozing or checking email might keep them awake. Or jokes. Or moving randomly around the room or screen. Eye contact. Wild gestures. Costumes? Powerpoint! Or how about something simple like a digital text transcript — or even better, perhaps a clear, one-paragraph post-it-size summary of the gist of the talk with hyperlinks to relevant info.

As educators, we need to pick our battles. Do we use up all our students’ energy with hours of mindnumbing information consumption before they ever get to the front lines or do we simply toss them into the thick of the battle and say “Fight!”

The “jump in first and figure things out later” approach may sound crazy, but it won’t be boring. Students aren’t stupid. Heck, we were all once students. (And some of us still are.) They’ll quickly search for or devise weapons to win. And they’ll value anyone who can help. Since they’re all in “real” (OK, “authentic”) danger, it’s in everyone’s interest to work together and find the best possible weapons to, first, survive, then win.

The question, ultimately, may be, “How can we make learning so authentic that adrenaline takes over and learning becomes indistinguishable from living?”

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2 Responses to Mshin: An Authentic Question at Last

  1. mshin11 says:

    You explored and answered this topic in an engaging, voice-driven, and informative way! No toggling to my email involved! Though, I do find text easier than listening to a lecture…audiobooks have never been a huge favorite of mine and those voices are GOOD. Either way, very insightful and you nailed it with your end questions.

  2. Boy do I agree give me text any day if all they are going to do is read from their power point slides. Now effective reading skills – how do you get people up to task on that one in our world of fragmented attention.

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