Are MOOCs Killing Our Conference Presentation Attention Span?

07 Oct

By Joshua Kim

I’m just starting a new MOOC on Coursera, An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching.

The first week is terrific, if a bit video heavy. No worries, as I watch my MOOC video (MOOCideo?) at 2X speed.  Double speed actually works well for teaching videos.  There is something about watching the material on the screen while listening that allows for fast consumption.

Oddly, this does not transfer over to audiobooks – as anything faster than normal speed for audiobooks makes my head hurt.

My theory is that video can be watched at double speed because it has my full attention.  I’m not trying to do something else, like drive or wash dishes, when I watch MOOC videos.  My information intake channels can accommodate 2X consumption.  Bandwidth increases with focus.

The problem is that any presentation, particularly a conference presentation, at 1X speed now feels hopelessly slow.  I worry that my brain has reset itself to 2X single channel information intake.  At 1X information delivery speeds my brain is starving for more data.

I don’t think that this problem, (if it is a problem), is quite analogous to becoming habituated to external stimulation.  Every generation we have a moral panic about students being unable to pay attention in class because they have become accustomed to the sensory overload. Facebook or or video games. Before social media and games it was music videos or pinball or Elvis or whatever.  From what I can see our students get smarter every year, so I’m not too worried about distractions.

What I am talking about is an actual speeding up of our information delivery expectations.  MOOCs, and maybe lecture capture recordings, may be changing how we set our expectations around the pace of presented material.  I’ve noticed a disturbingly painful reaction inside my brain when I sit through a conference presentation where the information delivery is either too slow or too simple.  Presentations that in past that I could have sat through happily now cause grave mental pain.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on October 7, 2014 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed


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