My Attention Span…

The lack of posting here is due to tremendous increases in school, life, and work. All should be well in about 2 weeks. Hopefully.
Anyway, here is a response to some articles by Marc Prensky that were required for class.

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

I came away with reservations about these articles (parts I and II). At first shake, Prensky’s arguments make sense. After some time sitting and putting some thought into it, I would be inclined to disagree with him.

Let me say that I seem like a Digital Native, but it mostly due to growing up with an interest in technology, not having been born into that world. The articles were written in 2001, when I graduated from high school. I still have recollections of VCRs and phones cords. Computers were monochrome beasts with no hard drives. I stride the bridge between the Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.

Real Digital Natives are not ones who just grow up playing video games; I grew up playing video games. Digital Natives would be those who have no recollection of a world without instant and constant information in their pockets: the Wireless Generation. These students we will teach have had personal cell phones since elementary school.

So there’s my first issue with Prensky. It’s not a gaming generation that makes a difference. It is ubiquitous information. Still, why do kids get into video games? They entertain. It’s a new genre of entertainment alongside the popular novel, movies, and television. While trying to turn an entertainment source into an educational source is a noble endeavor, it is ultimately a futile one.

Why do kids (and adults) spend so much time trying to master skills for a video game? Games link the worlds of entertainment and hobbies. Fixing cars, learning chess, fishing, all are skills that people acquire not to get smarter, but for fun. Those skills still sit outside the educational world, and I’m glad for it.

Attention spans seem shot? Of course they are. Kids are used to fast-paced imagery passing before them. Objectively watching TV, especially advertisements, reveals a bombardment on the senses. One doesn’t need to have deep thinking and processing to play or watch most things. That’s fine; it’s what entertainment is for. Still, that doesn’t forgive schools for being dry and presenting content coldly.

The bigger issue is not attention span, it is concentration. On the surface, they look similar. Deeper, they are different. One is sensorial focus, the other is a duration of cognition. Sure kids could play games or watch TV for hours on end, but they aren’t concentrating on them. To shallowly understand an image, people need to see it for a mere 3 seconds. TV and video games are geared toward that.

The other issue is a myth kids are especially good at perpetuating: humans are capable of multitasking. Supposedly they can watch TV, check websites, instant message or text people, all while writing a paper. It is false. I regularly read articles by heavy internet and computer users on how the best way to work on a task is by disconnecting themselves from the digital world.

I will also vouch for this as well. For the first half of my undergrad years, I had a TV in my room next to my computer. For some reason, I struggled to finish papers on time and get practicing done (I was a music major). As soon as I got rid of my television and isolated my practice and reading time, I found I could actually read more than a paragraph at a time and I got good marks in my private music instruction. I was amazed and wound up raising my class rankings by being able to concentrate again.

Prensky also brings up how students will attack problems non-linearly. They’ll analyze multiple points and try lots of little things without thinking heavily. Sure they get to the answer, but without a secure process to get there. Supposedly, that’s just the way young people think now. No, these are children of instant gratification. If there’s not an instant solution, try something else. Again, here’s the concentration factor.

My son does this regularly. He’s very bright for his age so most things come very easily. When something is a challenge or produces a failure the first couple of tries, he gives up, claiming not to like it, and moves on. This isn’t a healthy way to approach the world. You can’t expect to be entertained or be instantly gratified at every encounter.

I still fight this old habit as well. My inclination is to entertain myself before doing work. I have to force myself to get work done before rewarding myself. Often, that means I end my day without having a reward at all. But such is life, and that is not a bad thing to educate kids about.