Paying Attention in a Digital Age

I have been having a conversation that has been repeated in different places over and over again and it is about the need to pay attention to others while devices are all around us.  What is interesting is that I have noticed that the goal of what we are trying to do and what we perceive are not always the same.

Here’s an example…many educators that I have connected shared some similar characteristics in what it means to pay attention (eye contact, no devices being used), yet does this mean that learners are really focusing on what you are sharing? In some cultures, eye contact can be viewed as either disrespectful or trying to assert dominance.  The other aspect of this is that because someone is looking at you does not mean they are paying attention.  Sometimes when I am looking straight at a person, I am not paying attention, but my mind is wandering off.  Just yesterday, as I was listening to someone speak while sitting at their table, I noticed that I took their lanyard (neither of us noticed) and started folding and refolding it.  Often when I am processing, I need to manipulate things in my hands. Sometimes it’s an object, and sometimes it’s keys on a keyboard.

Now this doesn’t mean that I think if you are out for dinner, you should be on your devices the entire time.  I am not saying that at all.  What I am saying is that it is important that we recognize the difference between when we have a goal in mind in education or are we trying to control others.  Would you rather have a student look directly at you and not listen to anything you are saying, or have them on a device processing everything?  As an educator, it is important that we do not try to help students understand social situations and what is appropriate, but we also try to help them (and ourselves) understand what makes them successful in different situations.

In an interview I had a couple of years ago, when I walked into the room, I asked them if they would mind that I would be on my computer while they spoke as I would be looking up information or resources so I could show examples of my work.  They were fine with this, but I also understand that not asking them might have been rude.  Another educator shared with me in a similar situation, she asked if she could write down their question because she was a visual learner and they refused, saying it would be unfair.  She was especially mad when the next question was “how do you differentiate learning to accommodate your students?”


As some people would see the influx of devices in our world as a challenge, I see them as an opportunity to create more opportunities for more people.  What we have to realize that what we used to believe is simply a matter of black and white, is often really shades of grey.  These conversation are important to have with our students but also to push our own thinking.  The focus as educators should not be on what works for us, but what works for our students.

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