Give me your attention please! Mindfulness, evaluating attention and students!

Reading Net Smart: How to Thrive Online by Howard Rheingold, I absolutely loved reading from an author who has spent years dedicating his work to evaluating how our tools: laptops, smartphones, Facebook and media have truly changed the teacher (he is a professor) and student relationship.

I am very passionate about teaching World History to students. I will begin teaching 10th grade World History this week. When I observed my new classes last week, one thing I noted was that I need to grab their attention, but I will not get it for very long. How can I make my directions, brief lectures and instructions valuable in such a short amount of time?

In our course for BEDUC 476, we are reading Rheingold’s book and discussing attention because we are able to connect with family and friends, read news articles 24/7 and have the ability to create valuable online social networks in order to improve our teaching and help students learn in new mediums.

We have all seen news articles out there questioning if in fact social media, the internet and our ability to feel so connected at any time is detrimental to humans. I do not think so and this week, along with our reading, I have just been thinking about how I truly hold the power to my technology devices and I have really been trying to evaluate where I turn my attention. One of my favorite quotes is when Rheingold wrote, ‘the way we communicate today is altering the way people pay attention-which means we need to explore and understand how to train attention now, so that we, not our devices, control the shape of this alteration in the future’ (p. 14-15). So Rheingold and many others do not see technology as a detriment to humans but instead see it as training ourselves and constructing self-discipline in how we use technology in our daily lives.

After working all day, graduate school classes two nights a week, and feeding and caring for my children, I want to literally check out and just read posts on Facebook. However, recently since being introduced to valuable networks that we can craft online with other educators, I’ve been rethinking how and when I spend my time online. I am enjoying Twitter, learning from many scholars, like-minded teachers and technology gurus. I no longer wish to see all my long lost acquaintances babies on Facebook who I barely even knew in the first place.

Last week, our new President really sparked and lit a new fire when he signed an executive order temporarily banning refugees from entering the United States from seven particular countries. Due to my marriage, my volunteer work with refugees, my friends, students, and former colleagues, refugees in America hold a deep place within my heart. I stopped opening my Facebook, I did not read the news and instead chose to shut it all off. I chose to turn my attention elsewhere. That was the power that I had in the midst of a very controversial and heartbreaking (to me) national security order.

I survived. I am still processing national political events along with my friends, peers and colleagues. Reading about attention and thinking about where I spend my valuable precious resource called attention was really insightful. Applying principles of mindfulness, as Rheingold suggests, to our attention and use of technology is a remarkable exercise. And sometimes if you do not like what is going on in the world, turn down the volume, step away from all the chatter and think about the power that we still have: our attention.