Do you find yourself skimming an online article longer than a few paragraphs? Does watching a two minute YouTube video seem like an eternity? If you feel that your attention span has diminished, you are not alone. As the Internet becomes the dominant information and communications medium, it’s rewiring our brains, according to writer Nicolas Carr.
In his new book, The Shallows, Carr posits “When we go online we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. We are evolving from being cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest.”
Particularly problematic are hyperlinks, those ubiquitous blue words that make the Web unique. According to Carr, links act like speed bumps, slowing down the mind as it reads along a line. Rather than directing full attention to the meaning of the sentence, for a brief moment, the mind must weigh whether to click the link or cruise along. The mental journey is interrupted. Other electronic distractions include e-mail, Facebook updates, instant messaging, texting and tweeting.
The danger here is that as our concentration declines, we lose the ability to think deeply. As attention declines, so does one’s memory. Carr’s thesis is backed by research from psychiatrists and researchers who have found that even a few hours online rewires neural pathways. This rewiring remains long after we log off. For more, listen to an interview with Nicolas Carr.
Whether you accept Carr’s theory or not, there’s no doubt that interruptions plague modern life. Yet maintaining focus is critical despite the digital deluge. Technologist Clay Johnson provides tips on how to train yourself to focus.
As research into the importance of cognitive development of children expands, educators are finding new ways to incorporate cognitive development in the classroom.
A recent example of this practice can be found in Gary, Indiana, just outside of downtown Chicago. In January 2010, the Gary Community School Corporation adopted the use of cognitive learning software in Bailly Preparatory Academy, a middle school in the community. The school district was able to implement the software with the help of donations from two prominent citizens of the community.
The software, called BrainWare Safari, is designed to improve the mental processing skills of children and is reportedly being used in over 200 school districts across the nation. Scientific understanding about how children mentally develop is used in the software’s methodology, which incorporates a number of animated characters into 168 levels of a video game format.
“Our children are more drawn to technology,” Bailly Principal Lucille Washington told the Post-Tribune. “Anything like that is a hook.”
Washington’s point about children being drawn to technology is valid, as evidenced by the U.S. Census statistics on computer and Internet use. Computers are commonplace in the household, and they are becoming more commonplace in schools. With such adoption, it makes sense that more schools are implementing technology and the Internet in the classroom.
Though the administrators at Bailly Preparatory Academy claim to already see positive results in students’ daily 45-minute sessions using the BrainWare Safari software, it’s still early. They hope that additional language arts and mathematics assessments in May will yield a clearer picture on the efficacy of the software.
Regardless, it’s encouraging to see more educators recognizing that when carefully assessed and supervised, many technologies can effectively be incorporated into the classroom.