Narratives - Digital Information Overload

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Narrative 1: Distracting Gadgets and Attention Deficits in Schools

From "When Gadgets Get in the Way", by Lisa Guernsey,The New York Times, Aug. 19, 2004

Now that computers are a staple in schools around the country, perhaps the machines should come with a warning label for teachers: 'Beware: Students may no longer hear a word you say.'

Today 80 percent of public schools have high-speed Internet access in at least one classroom, according to Market Data Retrieval, an education research company. Among colleges, 69 percent have classroom Internet access and 70 percent have wireless networks. Students start tapping away behind laptop lids with no way for professors to know if they are taking notes or checking Hotmail.

'I've never been in a lecture where I haven't seen someone checking their e-mail when they were supposed to be doing stuff,' said Bill Walsh, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Instant messages, news tickers and games like solitaire beckon too.

Joe Huber, the technology coordinator for the public schools in Greenwood, Ind., said that teachers routinely complain about gadget-distraction among students. 'It is a huge problem with anyone who teaches with any kind of technology,' he said.

Even in rooms without computers or Internet access, students have other devices to draw their attention away from academics. Cellphones may be prohibited at many schools, but that doesn't stop students from putting them on vibrate and trading text messages under their desks. That is, when they aren't fiddling with their organizers or music players.
Teachers have started to fight back. All agree that the best weapon against attention deficit is the same one that worked before the dawn of computers: strong teaching. But new strategies don't hurt, either. Some teachers have found, in fact, that the best defense against the distractions of technology is other technology. Here are five examples of teachers who are fighting fire with fire.

Counter-strategies adopted by teachers:

  • use of (interactive) games in classroom
  • threat to reboot without saving assignment
  • classroom layout that allows teacher to watch students' laptops screens (MIT)
  • remote controlled student computers, e.g. with option to "freeze" operations when teacher explains

Narrative 2: Reliability of New Intermediaries

Narrative 3, from Digital Information Explosion

Elizabeth stares at her screen. It feels a bit like an extension of herself, if she’s honest about it. Or like a best friend. Especially during a boring, boring class.

She’s pretending to pay attention to a truly stultifying lecture on Justice. It’s part of the core curriculum and something she more or less has to take in her first year of college. The teacher is droning on.

IM from Elizabeth to Keisha, a friend from Second Life who is taking the class as a distance student: “u watching this? This guy is just mailing it in, K. What a waste.” Then: “I wonder if he thinks about the fact that we pay for this.”

Keisha: “Yeah, I’m watching – sort of.” Send. New entry: “If u can call it that. Reading blogs, mainly, tho.”

E: “Me 2. Did u see Wonkette today? They had that sicko Saddam video up.”

K: “Can’t believe they did that. Can’t believe he’s dead.”

E: “Yeah. Justice, huh? This guy should be talking about whether Saddam got justice. Iraq: Got Justice?”

K: “Hey, that’s a good line. You should blog it.”

E: “Already did. Check your feed. Here, don’t bother, click on this." She sends a link to her blog.

K: “Did you see what Drudge had on it?”

E: “Nope will check.”

K: “L8r – hey, trying to tune in to class here for a minute or two before it ends… After all, we’re paying for this, right?”

Narrative 4: Exploring the news with Digg

20-year-old Digital Native Chung Sung Woo describes trying out the social news site in this blog post:

It was my first time to visit, which is the most famous website recently. How does it work? I mean, what are visitors doing in this website? Besides, why people love this website? With these questions, I decided to become a member of this site.