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Now You See It: Highlighting Cathy Davidson's Talk at MSU

Written by Dawn Reed
April 24, 2012

As we continue to enrich our thinking about education and digital literacies, I had the chance to attend a valuable talk about attention, learning and shifts in education.  Information on Cathy Davidson’s talk follows:

Cathy Davidson of Duke University visited Michigan State University on Friday, April 20, 2012 to discuss her book Now You See It How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.

Davidson highlighted how society is often concerned over change, as with any new information or technology.  She shared that novels, when first becoming popular, caused people to worry that the books would lead people moraly astray.  Davidson compared this to the discussions of video games or other technologies today.  She then outlined four changes of the information age including

  1. the invention of writing or the first record of information around 4,000 BCE) in which Socrates expressed appreciation for the dialogical form and that writing hurt attention (Plato wrote down Socrates ideas); 
  2. Movable type – which lead to the ability to translate books;
  3. Mass printing;
  4. Internet and the world wide web, with its start in 1993 with the first web browser Mosaic 1.0.  As such, the internet led to the publication of various forms of media without the need for a publisher to distribute ideas.

Davidson argued that everything we know now is based on the print information age.  Further, she noted that if the ways we articulate our ideas in the world are based on the culture that we live in, then our institutions of education need to shift from the industrial age of information to the digital age of information.

Davidson took us through the gorilla in the midst selective attention test and offered that the more anyone focuses attention on a task the more he is not seeing the world.  Therefore, we may miss something major in the world.  She argued that we need to pay attention in a connected world and workplace.

Through the analysis of keywords of the information age, Davidson noted some major shifts in the way we work and learn.  Keywords Davidson highlighted for the industrial age included: “attention to task, timeliness, standards and standardization, hierarchy, specialization, expertise, credential, metrics and ‘two cultures’ [which includes more of a separation between work and home]”.  These key ideas of the industrial age do not help prepare one to read widely with intelligence of sorting, shifting, thinking and exploring credibility as needed in the digital age.  Davidson offered key words for the digital age to include “multitasking attention (remix, customize, mash-up), workflow (not task-specific), process (publish first, revise later) [such as in a blog], data mining: big data, visualization, storytelling, blended skills of “hard” and “soft” [home and work are blended now such as with the role of checking email], collaboration by difference.” 

Additionally she noted that connected collaboration is important in a digital age.  She offered that there is a “myth of monotasking” that in reality we are always multitasking and we learn in multiple ways, therefore “distraction is our friend” which is ok if we recognize the distraction and learn to accommodate to ways that work for you.  The enriching talk ended with questions and answers, in which Davidson noted that the moment of distraction is learning.

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