This week I turned my attention towards philosophy and the issue of focusing the mind and improving one’s sustained attention. Due to my refocusing, I critiqued and wrote a response to the digital story “Eastern Philosophy: Wu Wei” which I posted on my blog. In the post, I describe the Daoist concept of wu wei and how, “It advises one to be naturally aware, as others act frantically and then lightly adjust one’s actions accordingly, so as not to react. Acting with purpose, and to be at peace while engaging in frenetic activity so that one can employ their skill and perform the task with optimum efficiency.” This describes what I prefer to think of as a flowing, natural, sustained engagement, where one can focus their attention over time in a very productive way. Engagement and the need to use technology to engage learners is often written about in this era, so I was forced to step back and consider the term. I found that it is simply defined as, occupying, attracting, or involving someone’s interest or attention.
When it comes to sustained attention, I have learned that one of the many benefits of digital storytelling is to engage the learner in the subject matter through the use of multimedia. And that student-produced digital stories afford the learner the opportunity to develop proficiency with 21st-century tools while reflecting, and thinking critically about the topic, and the artifacts that will support the story in a meaningful way (“7 Things,” 2007).
I am convinced of the value of digital storytelling, that is, stories produced to share information with the learner, as well as learner produced digital stories. I, therefore, plan to include them in my EFL curriculum. Learner engagement in this fast paced world of flashing images and soundbites is a real concern of mine and digital stories address some of my concerns.
To continue on my path of addressing sustained engagement and focused attention I will now turn to Eastern philosophy. I have been a student of Eastern philosophy for many years and one of the many benefits I have found, are tools to help one focus their mind for sustained periods. Hence, my inclusion of the concept of wu wei in this piece, where I briefly described wu wei and how this ancient Daoist philosophy advises one to become naturally aware, so that they may perform a task with optimum efficiency. Calming the chaotic mind is one of the goals, and yet note that the mind is calmed so that its intelligence is available and can be called upon when needed. How might this be accomplished in a learning environment?
In one of my recent web searches for sources that address learning and the benefits of Eastern philosophy in the learning environment, I unearthed “The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind” Wallace (2006). I am familiar with other work produced by Wallace but was completely unaware of this fascinating book. Wallace (2006) has approximately, “… thirty years’ practice in attention-enhancing meditation…” and is “… an active participant in the much-publicized dialogues between Buddhists and scientists … is uniquely qualified to speak intelligently to both camps …” and presents strong arguments in the “Attention Revolution” (Forward).
Wallace (2006) opens by addressing our “chronic distractibility” and asks many important questions concerning our faculty for attention. He writes that, “Few things affect our lives more than our faculty for attention. If we can’t focus our attention—due to either agitation or dullness—we can’t do anything well. We can’t study, listen, converse with others, work, play or even sleep well if our attention is impaired” (Wallace, 2006, p. 1). He then describes how this attention deficit is too often being treated with pharmaceuticals and how this “quick fix” may not only be unnecessary in many cases but that it has detrimental side effects that we don’t yet fully understand (Wallace, 2006, p. 2). Concerning attention, Wallace (2006) includes an interesting quote from the American philosopher and pioneer of modern psychology, William James, who argued:
The possession of such a steady faculty of attention is unquestionably a great boon. Those who have it can work more rapidly, and with less nervous wear and tear. I am inclined to think that no one who is without it naturally can by any amount of drill or discipline attain it in a very high degree. Its amount is probably a fixed characteristic of the individual. (p 4)
James also asserted, according to Wallace (2006) that geniuses of all kinds excel in their capacity to focus their attention for long periods of time on a given subject. He suggests that one just considers the great works of scientists, mathematicians, or musicians as proof (p. 3). Wallace and James both agree that our ability to focus our attention has a very profound impact on our character, including our ethics. Wallace’s (2006) central argument, and one that I accept, is that our sustained faculty for attention is not fixed. He instead claims that our faculty for attention is instead quite plastic and can, therefore, be trained using various meditation techniques. Wallace (2006) details these techniques in later chapters of the book, some of which I plan to address in a later blog post.
Wallace, B. A. (2006). The attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
7 Things You Should Know About Digital Storytelling. (2007, January). Retrieved November 3, 2016, from www.educause.edu/eli