Learning and Working in the Age of Distraction

screensThere is a lot of talk about distraction these days. The news is full of stories about the Trump administration and the President himself creating distractions to keep the public unfocused on issues they wish would go away (such as the Russias connections) and some people believe the President is too easily distracted by TV news and Twitter.

There are also news stories about the "distraction economy."  So many people are vying for your attention. The average person today is exposed to 1,700 marketing messages during a 24-hour period. Most of these distractions are on screens - TV, computers and phones.  Attention is the new currency of the digital economy.

Ironically, a few years ago I was reading about "second screens," behavioral targeting and social media marketing and that was being called the "attention economy." There is a battle for attention, and the enemy is distraction.

Google estimates that we spend 4.4 hours of our daily leisure time in front of screens. We are still using computers mostly for work/productivity and search. We use smartphones for connectivity and social interactions. Tablets are used more for entertainment. My wife and I are both guilty of "multi-screening." That means we are part of the 77% of consumers watching TV while on other devices. I am on my laptop writing and researching and she is on her tablet playing games and checking mail and messages. It is annoying. We know that.

Of course, the original land of distraction is the classroom. Students have always been distracted. Before the shiny object was a screen full of apps, passing notes was texting, and doodling in your notebook and the cute classmates sitting nearby were the social media. But I have seen four articles on The Chronicle website about "The Distracted Classroom" lately. Is distraction on the rise?

If you are a teacher or student, does your school or your own classroom have a policy on using laptops and phones? If yes, is it enforced?  Anyone who has been in a classroom lately of grade 6 or higher knows that if students have phones or laptops out in class for any reason they are texting, surfing the web, or posting on social media.

Good teachers try to make classes as interactive as possible. We engage students in discussions, group work and active learning, but distractions are there.

Banning devices isn't a good solution. Things forbidden gain extra appeal.

distractionsA few books I have read discuss the ways in which distraction can interfere with learning. In The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World , the authors say that distraction occurs when we are pursuing a goal that really matters and something blocks our efforts to achieve it. Written by a neuroscientist, Adam Gazzaley, and a psychologist, Larry D. Rosen, they join other researchers who report that our brains aren't built for multitasking. This compares to a time a few decades ago when being able to multitask was consider a positive skill.

It seems that the current belief is that we don't really multitask. We switch rapidly between tasks. Any distractions and interruptions, including the technology-related ones - act as "interference" to our goal-setting abilities. 

But is this a new problem or has our brain always worked this way? Is the problem really more about the number of possible distractions and not our "rewired" brains?

Nicholas Carr sounded an alarm in 2011 with The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains, arguing that our growing exposure to online media means our brains need to make cognitive changes. The deeper intellectual processing of focused and critical thinking, gets pushed aside in favor of the faster processes like skimming and scanning.

Carr contends that the changes to the brain's "wiring" is real. Neural activity shifts from the hippocampus' deep thinking, to the prefrontal cortex where we are engaged in rapid, subconscious transactions. Substitute speed for accuracy. Prioritize impulsive decision-making over deliberate judgment. 

In the book Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom  the author asks questions such as Why Do Students Remember Everything That's on Television and Forget Everything I Say? and Why Is It So Hard for Students to Understand Abstract Ideas? and gives some science and suggestions as answers. But these are difficult questions and simple answers are incomplete answers in many cases.

Some teachers decide to use the tech that is being a distraction to gain attention. I had tried using a free polling service (Poll Everywhere) which allows students to respond/vote using their laptops or phones. You insert questions into your presentation software, and that allows you to track, analyze, and discuss the responses in real time. The problem for me is that all that needs to be pre-planned and is awkward to do on-the-fly, and I am very spontaneous in class with my questioning. Still, the idea of using the tech in class rather than banning it is something I generally accept. But that can't be done 100% of the time, so distracted use of the tech is still going to occur.

bubbleAnd the final book on my distraction shelf is The Filter Bubble. The book looks at how personalization - being in our own bubble - hurts the Internet as an open platform for the spread of ideas. The filter bubble puts us in an isolated, echoing world. The author, Eli Pariser, subtitles the book "How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think." Pariser coined the term “filter bubble.” The term is another one that has come up o the news in talking about the rise of Donald Trump and the news bubble that we tend to live in, paying attention to a personalized feed of the news we agree with and filtering out the rest.

Perhaps creating a filter bubble is our way of coping with the attention economy and a way to try to curate what information we have to deal with every day.

Then again, there were a number of things I could have done the past hour instead of writing this piece. I could have done work that I actually get paid to do. I could have done some work around my house. But I wrote this. Why? 

Information overload and non-stop media is hurting my/our discipline for focus and self-control.

Michael Goldhaber defined the attention economy in this more economic way: "a system that revolves primarily around paying, receiving and seeking what is most intrinsically limited and not replaceable by anything else, namely the attention of other human beings.” In order for that economy to be profitable, we must be distracted. Our attention needs to be drawn away from the competition.

As a secondary school teacher for several decades, I saw the rise of ADHD. That was occurring before the Internet and lack of attention, impulsivity and boredom were all symptoms. It worsened after the Internet was widespread, but it was there before it and all the personal digital devices.

Back in 1971,  Herbert A. Simon observed that “what information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

We are collectively wiser than ever before. We have the wisdom of the world in a handheld computer connected to almost everything. But it is so difficult to filter out the distractions and garbage that we don't have a lot of success translating information into knowledge. People used to say that finding out something on the Internet was like taking a sip from a fire hose. Search filtering has helped that, but so far the only filters for our individual brains are self-created and often inadequate.

 

How Disrupted Is Education?

track disruption

I had bookmarked a post last fall on emergingedtech.com about digital disruption and it got me wondering about just how disruptive some recent "disruptors" have actually been to education. The article lists six: Delivery, Flipped Classroom, Tools Available, Micro-credentialing, Competency-Based Education (CBE) and Learning Science.

You can argue with their six choices, but they are all disruptors. I might have added others, such as Open Education Resources, including MOOC, but I suppose that might fall under "delivery" too. 

In 2012, when I was deep into MOOCland, I read The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside OutIt is co-written by Clayton Christensen, who is considered "the father of the theory of disruptive innovation." His previous books include The Innovator's Dilemma, which examined business innovation, and The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators

After four decades as an educator, I would say that education in general gets disrupted rather slowly, but here are some thoughts on these disruptions. Are we talking about disruption in K-12 or higher education, or in the whole of educations.

By DELIVERY, they are including, and probably focused on, online delivery. The US DOE reported back in 2012 that 1 in 4 students has taken some or all of their courses online, and that figure is predicted to grow steadily. In higher ed, online learning is firmly in place. It disrupted, and now the waters have calmed. In K-12, the disruption is still to come.

The FLIPPED CLASSROOM was big a few years ago in K-12. It never really caught on or was part of the conversation in higher ed. It's not gone and it is still being tweaked and studied. This idea of  on continues to expand. The annual Horizons Report for 2015 predicted this would have widespread adoption immediately, but that didn't happen.

Certainly the number and VARIETY OF TOOLS available to educators has grown and continues to grow every week. Viewed as an umbrella of tools, they are more disruptive than any individual tool. We have seen many predictions that adaptive learning tools, VR and AR, 3D printing and other tools would radically change they way we teach. None of them have "changed everything."

Maybe you're seeing a pattern in my responses. There hasn't been a major disruption. When I wondered four years ago who was really being disrupted in higher ed, I was thinking about what a University 2.0 might mean. I have the larger category on this blog of Education 2.0. We definitely moved into Web 2.0 after only a few decades, but after a few centuries education is beyond 1.0 but not over the line into a major change that I would consider 2.0. 

I do believe that things like MICRO-CREDENTIALING, CBE and the growth of LEARNING SCIENCE will change things. Combined, all these disruptors will certainly move us closer to that Education 2.0.

Beyond micro-credentialing, I see an entire reconsideration of credits and degrees as the biggest disruption to traditional education (as opposed to learning). Will movements like the Lumina Foundation's framework for “connecting diverse credentials” unite (or divide) non-traditional sources like MOOC courses and professional development training?

That leads right into Competency Based Education. The Department of Education (which plays a much bigger role in K-12) seems to be very serious about CBE.  This is big disruption of the centuries old clock hours and seat time for credits towards degrees. 

LEARNING SCIENCE that is deepening what we know about how we learn, and the relationship between different tools, may have a bigger impact on pedagogy than on how a school looks when you walk into a classroom. 

Maybe the Internet or "technology" should be the disruptor we point to that changed education as it touches all of these other disruptors. 

Making Educational Content Accessible

disability symbols
You might have read earlier this year that the University of California, Berkeley started removing more than 20,000 video and audio lectures from public view that they had made freely available online. Why? It was the result of a Justice Department accessibility order requiring them to make the educational content accessible to people with disabilities.
UC Berkeley was one of the colleges in the forefront of posting to YouTube, iTunes U and their own webcast.berkeley.edu site. Accessibility for people with a wide variety of disabilities has been an issue with online courses for many years. Mostly, schools have "gotten away with it" when it comes to following requirements that largely came into focus primarily after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990.
It's curious that the Justice Department’s investigation did not look at how Berkeley actually serves students with disabilities, but only the accessibility of content it offers to the public. As a result of this order the university will also require users sign in with University of California credentials to view or listen to them.
This is a scary ruling for other institutions who have been "getting away with it" and now may have to do the same as UC. 
All it took was complaints from two employees of Gallaudet University, the world's only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students. The employees said that Berkeley’s free online educational content was inaccessible to blind and deaf people because of a lack of captions, screen reader compatibility and other issues.
Unfortunately, to remedy these issues any university would need to implement measures that are very expensive to continue to make these resources available to the public. Since they were offered for free, there is really no business model that applies here other than charity. So, the immediate solution was to make them "inaccessible" to everyone by removing them. 
Berkeley can continue to offer massive open online courses on edX. They also plan to create new public content that is accessible.
One concern that many educators have is that this ruling will result in the disappearance of much Open Educational Resources.

What Is Ahead for Career and Technical Education In The Trump Administration?

The new Secretary of Education, Betsy de Vos, was viewed with trepidation by many educators. They see her as an advocate of charter schools and not a champion of K-12 public schools. In higher education, it was unclear what her focus would be because she had no experience in that area.
In her first speeches, community colleges may have felt some relief as she praised community colleges noting their importance to President Trump’s plan of expanding vocational and technical education. While community colleges do provide career and technical education, most also have a mission to provide the foundation for students to transfer to four-year colleges. The views of de Vos and the administration on that are still unclear.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) is designed to equip students with skills to prepare them for viable careers in high-growth industries. According to the association for Career and Technical education (ACTE), the top 10 hardest to fill jobs include skilled trade positions. Healthcare occupations make up 12 of the 20 fastest growing occupations. There are one million jobs open in trade, transportation and utilities sectors and more than 300,000 jobs in manufacturing.
Middle-skill jobs that require education and training beyond high school but less than a bachelor's degree make up a significant part of the economy and workforce. 
But not all of that training requires a college. Career training centers and for-profit groups have taken on many of these skill areas, and that is why college educators fear that de Vos, as with public schools, will be more in favor of that private and for-profit approach rather than colleges.
In her speeches, de Vos did not touch on issues involving transfer students, although many enroll at community colleges planning to eventually transfer to a four-year institution. The themes of her comments match the priorities talked about by the administration and Republican lawmakers (like North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx, the chairwoman of the House education and the work force committee) which focus on facilitating vocational education, expanding the number of certificates awarded to students, and putting a greater emphasis on alternatives to the traditional model of a four-year college education.
De Vos noted that President Trump's 100-day action plan includes a call to expand vocational and technical education, and that he has called multiple paths for postsecondary education "an absolute priority" for his Administration.
Those multiple paths are unclear right now, and that uncertainty concerns many educators.

Is There Really a World Education Day Conference?

empty roomI am seeing an increasing number of fraud meeting and conference announcements being distributed by e-mails and posts, and articles with warnings about them.

Why would someone create a phony event? Apparently, the scam is to get academics to pay registration fees, often with the added phishing bait of offering you a speaking slot.

Adam Ruben is one academic who almost fell for a scam conference and reported it online.  He writes:

"It was a proud moment for me as a scientist. A few years ago, on a random Tuesday morning, I opened my laptop and found an email inviting me to speak at an international scientific conference in Dalian, China.

“Wow!” I thought. “Someone has heard about my work! I’ve never been to China! This will be a life-changing, career-benefiting experience!”

I was so excited that I showed my colleague at the next desk. “Look!” I said. “I’ve been invited to speak in China!”

Without saying anything, she quickly searched her own email. The result was a whole “Deleted Files” folder full of invitations for her to speak at international conferences.

“These are like junk mail,” she explained. “I get these every day. I think a lot of scientists do.”


I received the same email (from "Miranda") recently. It said it was a follow-up, but it was the first email I received.

It announced that the World Education Day-2017 (WED-2017), with a theme of “Inheritance, Innovation, Development, and Philanthropy” would be held during September 27-29, 2017 in Dalian, China.

It wasn't just an event flyer, it asked me to be "the chair/speaker for Block 1: Educational Leadership Forums: Higher Education." 

They must really respect my breadth of knowledge because Miranda said that if the suggested thematic session is not my "current focused core" then I could just "look through the whole sessions and transfer another one that fit your interest." 

So, is this a real conference?

It is hard to tell. The have a website. If you do a search, it comes up at the top of the results.  It lists speakers with impressive credentials. Does that make it any more real or legitimate?

The site is worldeduday.org (no hotlink from me - why give them more traffic).

Even if the conference is actually going to happen, you have to question the way they solicit speakers. Call for proposals? Skip that - call for acceptances.


Data Privacy Day: The S in IoT Stands for Security

As you hear more about the Internet of Things (IoT), you may hear that the S in IoT stands for "security."

Right, there is no S in IoT. That's the point.

Did you know that today, January 28, is Data Privacy Day? Data Privacy Day (known in Europe as Data Protection Day) is an international holiday that occurs every 28 January.

The purpose of Data Privacy Day is to raise awareness and promote privacy and data protection best practices. It is currently observed in the United States, Canada, India and 47 European countries.

There's probably a lot more of your information in cyberspace than you know. And new devices are collecting more of your data every day. 

StaySafeOnline.org is just one site that has information about data privacy.

As an educator, if you want to teach about this to kids in elementary school, middle and high school or to students in higher education, they have materials.

Of course, this is not just for students. Many adults, especially older adults who didn't grow up with or use technology in their working lives, lack some basic knowledge about protecting your personal data. 

One slice of this data pie is privacy in social networks. Those networks both you use the data you voluntarily supply them with about yourself (birth date, address, email, occupation) and also information that you "allow" them to collect (perhaps without knowing that you allow them to gather that data) such as who your friends are, where you work, schools you attended, locations you frequent, your mobile phone number etc.).

Your smartphone, tablet or laptop  contains significant information about you and your friends and family – contact numbers, photos, more locations and more. How many security settings have you changed on your devices? If you're like many people, the answer is either none or "There are security settings?" Your mobile devices need to be protected.

Today might be a good day to start or check again just how much you have done to protect your personal privacy and data.

Soon, even more "things" connected to the Internet in your home, car, office and the places around you will be adding to that personal data out there. Be ready!



 



StaySafeOnline1 is the official YouTube channel of the National Cyber Security Alliance. NCSA's mission is to educate and therefore empower a digital society to use the Internet safely and securely at home, work, and school, protecting the technology individuals use, the networks they connect to, and our shared digital assets.