Conference: April 19, 2013
New Kinds of Attention: Teaching with Writing in a Digital Age
“Computer networks have allowed me to see a range of different literacy practices I would not otherwise have seen. And I suspect that makes me a better teacher. I think the reach of the web makes me a better thinker about literacy, and thinker about education, and thinker about technology; it allows me to talk to more people and to go more places and see more things and do things that I would not normally be able to do.”
—Cynthia L. Selfe, Composition Forum, issue 21, spring 2010
Like it or not, we have all become digital citizens—spending much of our days navigating the Internet, World Wide Web, text messages, e-mails, and tweets. But we’re still learning how to integrate this new flood of information into our lives. As teachers in the classroom, how should we think about the student who has five windows open on her screen while writing a paper? What kind of attention is this—and can it lead to the deep engagement we’d like our students to express through their work? When multiple streams of information are available at the click of a mouse, how does this change the way students write, think, and develop their own ideas? What kind of attention are we now dealing with as teachers and students?
Cognitive science has shown that we learn to pay attention differently depending on the world we’re exposed to; and that what we pay attention to actually changes our brains. Our use of the Internet has changed how we focus. At the click of a mouse we can immerse ourselves in completely different worlds—move from the latest research on an infectious disease, to the causes of World War I, and a YouTube video of a recently attended party. In this conference, we explore how teaching might respond to these new brains and modes of focusing. If we see students as distracted, how might we use writing to help them focus on the skills they’ll need beyond school? If these new modes are an opportunity, how can writing support students as they develop novel ways of thinking and being in the world? And what can we learn about this new world from our students, who are more likely to be born into it than their teachers?
The conference consists of small group workshops, led by Institute faculty associates, and a plenary session featuring keynote speaker Cynthia L. Selfe.
Cynthia L. Selfe is Humanities Distinguished Professor in the English Department at Ohio State University and coeditor of Computers and Composition: An International Journal. Selfe was recognized as an EDUCOM Medal winner for innovative computer use in higher education. She has also been presented with the Technology Innovator Award by the CCCC Committee on Computers. Selfe is the author of numerous books such as Technology and Literacy in the 21st Century, The Perils of Not Paying Attention,and Creating a Computer-Supported Writing Facility, and is coauthor of Literate Lives in the Information Age: Narratives of Literacy from the United States (with Gail Hawisher and Lawrence Erlbaum), and Computers and the Teaching of Writing in American Higher Education, 1979–1994: A History (with Gail Hawisher, Paul LeBlanc, and Charles Moran).