I started reading the Chronicle piece entitled “You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help” feeling very smug and superior. Those foolish students — why do they not realize that their constant response to electronic devices is counterproductive (and it is). Checking Facebook in class, texting while researching, checking that funny cat video when slightly bored . . . none of this is conducive to the kind of focus that leads to deep learning. And so I was wishing that SMU had a course like the one described, “Information and Contemplation” that uses meditation and other tools to help students become more mindful of the ways in which they flit from medium to medium. (The professor and his colleagues did an experiment establishing the impact of meditation on productivity in the workplace, too.)
And then I started reading about some of the class assignments: take 15 minutes and do nothing but focus on your email. Don’t open your browser. Don’t look at text messages. Don’t Google anything. Deal with it thoughtfully, and then be done. Or this one: use Camtasia to capture what’s going on on your computer screen. How many windows do you have open? What are you doing with them? What does your face look like (it captures your webcam, too) when you hear an incoming email ding? (expectant? anxious?). I watched the video embedded in the article and wondered what my own screen would look like. The electronic crack of stimulation can work as powerfully on us as on our students, and just as they will not learn efficiently while constantly switching tasks, I’m afraid my use of time is less productive as I bounce among stimuli.
The academic life is a high pressured one, and it can feel like the competing pressures of scholarship and teaching hardly leave time to brush your teeth. How much faster and more thoughtfully would I be able to prepare to teach class if I don’t constantly interrupt myself? How much more research or writing could I get done if I am not repeatedly switching from my Word document to immediately check that incoming email, or catching up with professional gossip on law blogs? So I’m going to try ratcheting down the beeping stimuli and try to do one thing at a time . . . well, mostly. Anyone care to join me?