Kids have a lot going on in their lives.
Sports, family, jobs, friends, facebook, and occasionally… school.
They have information being directed at them from all angles. Parents give instructions and schedules, volleyball coaches direct them to Youtube videos to help them improve their spiking techniques, an english teacher wants them to dig into a Shakespeare play and their phones endlessly buzz with vital texts coming in from friends.
They (as do most of us) live in a complex, information rich environment. The concept of the information and attention economies is something that many of us as teachers don’t often take into account, but which probably plays a central role in learning these days. How do the lessons and the experiences that we provide for our students fit into the information environment they encounter everyday? How does what we want them to learn compete for their limited amount of attention?
A new study published in Nature is the first of its kind showing how memes change, grow and spread in active information environments. While information has often been compared to a virus, this study actually shows that:
“This appears as an arresting conclusion that makes information epidemics quite different from the basic modeling and conceptual framework of biological epidemics. While the intrinsic features of viruses and their adaptation to hosts are extremely relevant in determining the winning strains, in the information world the limited time and attention of human behavior are sufficient to generate a complex information landscape and define a wide range of different meme spreading patterns.”
Lessons that are purely focused on information, that have little context or emotional attachment for students stand little chance of being retained or absorbed as meaningful by the students that we teach. While I have no expectation that every English lesson I teach will go viral, I do need to understand the complex information environments that my students live within. Does having them reflect on their personal information environments help them to place academic information in a context of some sort? How can we structure our classes, lessons and information so that students respond to it emotionally, moving it up in their limited amount of attention?
New questions to ponder…..