First aired on Spark (11/9/11)
September is the season to head back to school. And with every new school year, we hear claims that the western education system is broken and that current modes of instruction are outdated and unable to meet the demands of the 21st-century workforce.
Duke University professor Cathy N. Davidson agrees with these criticisms. This innovative educator (in 2003, she helped give Duke University freshman free iPods) believes that how we learn is a relic of 19th-century values. If formal education has any chance at relevancy, she argues in her new book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, we must embrace the aspects of our digital lives that are normally shunned by scholars: technology, collaboration, multi-tasking and even distraction.
At the core of Davidson's argument is what she calls "attention blindness." The ability to pay attention -- and to choose what we do and do not pay attention to -- is "historically relative and cultural and based on pre-digital 20th-century ideas," she explained to Spark host Nora Young. "What we need is education that encourages new ways to pay attention."
Because attention is learned, Davidson argues that all this concern about our multi-tasking society and how "distractions" like social media and email are "hurting our brains" is unfounded. "We think the world is only about single-focused, silent attention, the kind of attention when we are taking a test," she said. "But, in fact, we know even in those moments [of] uninterrupted attention, the brain is constantly interrupting itself."
Instead of fighting this digital wave, educational models need to use it to their advantage in order to produce creative, productive, inquisitive students.
Davidson claims these changes are easy. Use YouTube videos to demonstrate simple concepts. Have students blog their assignments -- and then have them evaluate their peers. Allow them to use social networking to collaborate on assignments. Let them use their phones to document school trips. Adapting education models so they mimic the way students interact with the world will make contemporary education more relevant and more useful, she contends.
After all, Davidson says, "there's nothing wrong with today's education system if you don't mind preparing students of today for the 20th century."
Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn
by Cathy N. DavidsonBuy this book at:
"When Davidson and Duke University gave free iPods to the freshman class in 2003, critics said they were wasting their money. Yet when students in practically every discipline invented academic uses for their music players, suddenly the idea could be seen in a new light -- as an innovative way to turn learning on its head."
Read more at Penguin Canada