Mindful Technology Partnership Initiative
Concurrent Session 9
Too much technology, not enough time? This session will explore how a professor and a graduate student designed a technology partner initiative to mindfully explore, practice, observe, and reflect on their use of technology. This ongoing project identifies technology habits to adopt a more mindful, presence stance toward technology.
This session will provide information about a technology partnership initiative that a graduate student and professor co-created to help alleviate technology overload and frustration and expand mindful technology habits. Although technology is a time saver, it can also be a time drain. Our devices have splintered our ability to attend to one thing at a time. Both teachers and students tend to become distracted and productivity can suffer.
Research from Cambridge University indicted that over one third of people feel overwhelmed by technology today and are more likely to feel less satisfied with their life as a whole. The research revealed that technology itself is not the problem; it’s a lack of balance, and the tendency to get distracted and overloaded while plugged in.
This study originated from an education professor’s frustration when trying to implement multiple new technologies. The professor had recently written a book, Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care for Teachers and was attempting to use multiple online technologies to promote the book. Looking for support, the professor began to surf the web for tutorials. Multiple browsers led to feelings of overwhelm, frustration and distraction. No longer feeling present and balanced, but instead stressed and overwhelmed.
A graduate student observed the professor’s frustration and took the initiative to offer support. The support was timely, on target and valuable. The two began brainstorming strategies to support one another. The graduate student, a current elementary teacher was interested in incorporating more mindful practices into the classroom setting, which coincided with the professor's current research agenda. They realized that working together could be mutually beneficial. The collaboration began, and together they met weekly to explore new technology tools and discuss mindful strategies.
Each had something to provide to the partnership. The student was patient and adept at a variety of technology tools. The professor had a wealth of resources and experience in the field of mindfulness. Although decades apart in age, each had insight that the other needed. Together they reimagined the learning experience and explored innovative technologies.
They began by observing and reflecting on their online habits. Using technology mindfully amplified their learning processes. Both educators realized that technology often fractured their attention. The ability to maintain focus in the midst of endless browser opportunities was lacking. One of the causes of distractibility is multi-tasking, the phenomena of divided attention or task switching. The human brain does not switch well between tasks, and in fact is unable to do two tasks that require thinking at the same time.
They also noticed that they responded to and utilized technology in vastly different ways. They began to observe how their emotional reactions to a slow Internet connection would impact how they deployed their attention and thus their focus.
A common struggle was the lack of body awareness while on a device. Tight shoulders, shallow breathing, and poor posture added to the stress. Together they vowed to become more intentional about their technology habits. The goal was to avoid mindless behavior and cultivate healthy technology habits.
In the introductory planning session, a 6-month agenda was formed. The partners met in person once a month to create a monthly technology focus, and communicate weekly electronically. For example, the October focus for the professor was becoming more proficient at Twitter. The graduate student provided a twitter tutorial in person, and then both utilized twitter to explore research based mindfulness strategies to incorporate into classrooms. Together they explored Educator Twitter chats and learned to navigate a Twitter deck.Next they created a healthy habits checklist for heightened technology awareness. This checklist incorporated useful apps to help support their time management and mindfulness goals.Then, a reflective journal was created and they began documenting their new learnings and habits. A habit they both noticed was difficult to break was how distracted they were while online. This was in direct opposition to their goal of using technology mindfully.
Curious about how to resolve the dilemma, they researched how to combat distractibility while working online. The research indicated that one of the causes of distractibility is multi-tasking, the phenomena of divided attention or task switching. A common example is when a student is text messaging a friend while writing a research paper. Compared to a decade ago internet users are presented with more data (in the form of news stories, friend requests, wall posts, tweets, etc.) than ever (Junco & Cotten, 2011). Unfortunately, humans are unable to take in and process all of this information and turn to engaging in multi-tasking as an information management strategy (Chun, Golomb, & Turke-Brown, 2011). The research on multitasking has uncovered clear evidence that human information processing is insufficient for attending to multiple input streams and for performing simultaneous tasks (Koch, Lawo, Fels & Vorlander, 2011). This is because multi-tasking exhausts more energy and is less time efficient than single-tasking. Productivity experts Schwartz and McCarthy (2007) explain that distractions are costly: A temporary shift in attention from one task to another such as stopping to answer an e-mail, switch browsers or take a phone call, increased the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as twenty-five percent, a phenomenon known as “switching time”. College campuses are comprised of students who are constantly switching time. They are part of a digital generation, born during a time when informational and communication technologies (ICTs) are pervasive in our society; they have never known a time when it was not normal to use ICTs to perform daily activities (Cotten, McCullough, & Adams, 2011). Students use ICT at extremely high rates while also juggling classes, homework, possibly work and recreational activities. Much research has examined the effects of multitasking on human information process. Koch et al. (2011) found that there were significant performance costs (in both accuracy and reaction time) when switching between two auditory stimuli and that these costs were not reduced by advance preparation of participants’ attention. In 2009, a Stanford University study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers,” provided some of the most definitive evidence yet of the perils of multitasking in a digital age. The study indicated that the research is almost unanimous; people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically deficient at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.
Fueled with research they employed the Pomodoro technique, and vowed to single task while doing anything related to work/school. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management strategy that was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. You can use this technique to minimize distractions while working, but it is also a way to minimize mindlessness and build in some revitalizing moments in the day. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally twenty-five minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are known as “pomodoros.” The method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.
In our presentation we will share multiple techniques that we employed to support focus and productivity. We’ll use an interactive activity to demonstrate how easily our attention can be hijacked; we’ll share our healthy technology habits checklist, and the variety of apps and tools we discovered to support our commitment to mindfully using technology. All slides, websites and handouts will be provided to participants.
This project continues to evolve. The technology partnership initiative enabled a professor and graduate student to take risks and make mistakes in a non-threatening atmosphere. Professors and classroom teachers need not only access to technologies, but also an environment to promote understanding and confidence in their own creative teaching practice. The partnership was a place to foster creativity and “possibility thinking” along with technology innovation. The graduate student received one on one support to foster a classroom environment that supported mindfulness strategies and the professor learned a variety of online technology tools. Both have become more mindful users of technology. Future plans include sharing the idea with faculty and students, facilitating new technology partnerships, and forming a technology professional learning community.
Chun, M., Golomb, J. D. & Turke-Brown, N. B. (2011). A taxonomy of external and internal
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Cotten, S. R., McCullough, B., & Adams, R., (2011). Technological influences on social ties
across the lifespan. In Karen Fingerman Cynthia Berg, Toni Antonucci, & Jacqui Smith (Eds.), Handbook of lifespan psychology (pp. 647-671). Springer Publishers.
Junco, R., & Cotten, S. R., (2011). Perceived academic effects of instant messaging use.
Computers & Education, 56(2), 370-378.
Koch, I., Lawo, V., Fels, J., & Vorlander, M. (2011). Switching in the cocktail party: exploring
intentional control of auditory selective attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology, Human Perception and Performance, 37 (4), 1140-1147.
Schwartz, T. & McCarthy, C. (2007) Manage your energy, not your time. Harvard Business
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