Daydream Believers Reap Benefits

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Cloud whisps

Wandering Aimlessly? (Image by turtlemom4bacon via Flickr)

I’ve had the good fortune to know a number of talented creative professionals (such as professors, artists, graphic designers, and writers), and we’ve discussed how our best ideas seem to materialize when we’re absentmindedly strolling in the park or taking a shower. In other words, we’ve noticed that we’ve often had these little flashes of insight when we’re not trying to think about anything in particular.

Jonah Lehrer’s recent article “The Importance of Mind-Wandering,” published in Wired Science Blog The Frontal Cortex, discusses this idea. First, note our natural mental tendency is to daydream; in fact, according to a recent psychological study cited in the article, our mind is wandering almost half of our waking hours! So, fellow learners, now that you know it’s not just you whose mind drifts, read on to put yourself in a position to reap from your wanderings, and to observe some general advice concerning daydreams, boredom, focus, and creativity.

1. Yes, you do need to focus at certain times. I don’t think this article or related studies are meant to convey that it’s always appropriate to “space.” You realize you should be fully attentive when you’re using knives in the kitchen, for instance, and during occasions such as classroom lectures or business meetings. If someone is imparting information you need to know, of course, common sense dictates that you need to focus then.

2. This could be tough, given what I understand of media addiction in young people: don’t feel the urge to fill your “empty” moments immediately with something like texting. It’s okay to be bored, and such boredom can actually lead to great insight and creativity . . .

3. . . . That is, if you become conscious of the insight. Lehrer notes “letting the mind drift off is the easy part,” but it’s important to reap the benefits of mind-wandering by being aware enough to recognize the insights you’ve had.

In fact, if you take a creative writing class, you’re likely to be encouraged to keep a small notebook for those random moments when inspiration strikes. A creative person is constantly attuned to the little things in everyday life that some may tend to overlook; but those who successfully receive a flash of inspiration and do something productive with it are those who are aware of, and able to capture, that inspiration.

Texting in Class: “Ill-Mannered” or NBD?


textingAre you one of the student masses who texts while you’re sitting in class? Read on to find out more about this phenomenon, how college professors are reacting, and what you might need to consider as you prepare to enter those college classrooms yourself.

First, observe this recent commentary from The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Ill-Mannered Students Can Wreck More Than Your Lecture.” The piece is aimed at college professors, but note texting in the classroom is filed under “ill-mannered” student behavior. Here’s a quote:

“Now, the entire world via the Internet is a potential distraction—and with a cellphone, mp3 player, and laptop in almost every student’s possession, the temptation to become distracted (and thus to engage in discourteous classroom behavior) is overwhelming” (Joan Flaherty, “Ill-Mannered,” link above).

Using a gadget such as a cell phone to text is cast as a “distraction,” and further, is considered “discourteous.” Is that what all professors think? Well, based on my experience, conversations, and comments and articles I’ve read, I surmise electronic gadgets in the classroom are known elements. Instructors know students are fiddling with techie objects; they may or may not have explicit policies against it, but many frown on it. On the other hand, I know some instructors are using electronic gadgets as part of the class lessons: for instance, they may use Twitter or some kind of polling site in order to make class more interactive. If that’s the case with your class, then by all means embrace that technology as part of the learning experience.

In general, though, you’d do well to ponder these four points:

1)      Check the course syllabus’s policy on electronic devices in the classroom.
Such policies vary widely depending on campus and professor, but please note many courses will have explicit policies about your personal electronics in class. Some professors will forbid cell phone and even laptop use in class; some will ask you to leave or will mark you absent if they see you texting; some will simply factor your gadget use into the “participation” part of your grade. Why such policies? Because of the points below.

2)      Be aware that many professors consider texting in class to be flat-out rude.
We know texting is ubiquitous among American students: a recent Pew Internet study reports 95% of 18-24-year-olds have cell phones, and 97% of those young people text. And they text a lot: on average, they send or receive over 100 text messages per day (1). Texting inside the classroom seems to be quite common as well: one study shows 65% of college respondents report having sent at least one text during class; another study shows a whopping 91% have (2-3).

I’ve heard students are so attached to their phones, so accustomed to texting as a way of life, that they truly don’t realize texting in someone else’s presence is disrespectful or rude. But regardless of your intentions, and regardless of the idea that everyone seems to be doing it, and like it or not, here’s the message you send to the prof if you text during class:

“I do not want to be here. I have other, more important things to do than to pay attention to this class. Also, I am unable to delay techno-gratification for the 50 minutes the class is in session.”

You may say that you really don’t want to be in class (in which case you might consider delaying your college years until you are more goal-oriented); or that if the class is “boring,” you are entitled to mentally check out (an interesting line of thinking, but it is not taking responsibility for your own learning); or that you ARE able to pay attention to class whilst multitasking on the laptop or the phone. But behold the next point:

3)      Realize that multitasking is a myth!
Read more about the problems with multitasking here: “Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford study shows” (from Stanford University News, Adam Gorlick, 8/09), here, and here.

Basically, trying to do several things at once means you cannot effectively focus on anything. And in college classes you need to focus, because the material probably isn’t going to be easy-breezy. You may be sure you’re a good multitasker; even so, ask yourself honestly if, in the classroom where you’re attempting to multitask, you’d pass a pop quiz at any given time with flying colors. Also, if you’re currently allowed to text or web-browse with impunity, take the initiative to try a week in class without using gadgets. See how your notes and, after class, powers of recall improve.

4)      Be aware of other students in the room.
Gadgets can be distracting to your classmates (outside of a computer lab environment where everyone is clicking at the keyboard and every face reflects the bluish glow of screens). In fact, “distraction to others” is a major reason professors disallow gadgets in the classroom. You’re in a public space when you’re in class – you do need to be aware that at least some others around you likely find texting, Facebook visits, and general clicking away to be annoying and distracting.

Overall, remember that you are responsible for your own learning. No one else can learn for you, and if you’re attending class where ostensibly lessons are to be learned, why not put yourself in a position to maximize that time?

Image via / dharder


(1)                From “Americans and Text Messaging,” by Aaron Smith, 9/19/11. Pew Internet: Pew Internet & American Life Project, Pew Research Center.

(2)                “University Students Feel Guilty About Texting in Class, UNH Student Survey Shows,” University of New Hampshire Media Relations, 2/23/11.

(3)                “Wilkes University Professors Examine Use of Text Messaging in the College Classroom,” Wilkes University News, 11/29/10.

Regarding title: “NBD” = “no big deal.”

Too Much Information Addling Your Brain?

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Is too much information harming your quality of life? How would you know and how might yinformationou fix the problem? Find out by reading this editorial in Community College Week (authored by Reid Goldsborough) titled “Be Selective to Manage Internet’s Info Overload.”

The article explains that here in the information age, one should be careful of over-using “information sources that put a premium on the instant and the new but that may in the process compromise context and quality.”

Ah: the instant and the new, while not necessarily bad in and of themselves, are but droplets in the vast sea of human experience that college students must study. Serious students need to expose themselves to sophisticated and difficult material, and that’s often not the realm of the Web.

All of this is not to say “kill your computer” (or other e-gadgets). It is to say a good habit for you as a student is to be selective about how you spend your “wired” time, and limit that time so you have more mental space to study contemplatively.

Image via / rosevita

More Multitasking Murmurs…



Yesterday’s post discussed multitasking and how it affects the quality of study time.  Here are a couple of recent articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education that discuss multitasking within the classroom:

No Cellphone? No Internet? So Much Less Stress

From Professor Back to Student, With Complaint

(You can tell from the titles the tone they adopt; but in any case, they’re good reads for those headed to college or looking for ways to improve general academic performance.)

Image by Farai via Flickr

How To Set the Stage for Effective Studying


Closed red curtain at the Coolidge Corner Thea...

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In Prof. John Medina’s book Brain Rules, the author describes a scenario in which, after having been asked to tutor a friend’s teenaged son, he finds the student busy listening to music, downloading an image, playing a game, and chatting with friends . . . while simultaneously working on his homework assignment.

I’ve taught English at the college level for 10 years, and on one hand, this multitasking scene does not surprise me.  On the other hand, let’s say I never taught, never witnessed the apparent effects technology has had on students’ habits, and drew only from my own high school experience (waaay back in the cassette tape era when word processors were just starting to come around).  I think I’d be a little astonished at the multitasking homework scenario.  Why?  After all, “multitasking” has come to be the fashion in the working world, too: at least for those whose work is heavily at the computer.  Well–because for me, anyway, homework and studying always have required a pretty strong dose of concentration.  So I think I’d be asking, “How can that student concentrate?”

How interesting to read, in Brain Rules, that he can’t.  None of us can pay attention, truly, to several things at once – hence “multitasking” is not really possible (not at work, not in school, not behind the wheel).  An interesting link that illustrates:

Hence, if studying is regularly a frustrating event for you, try unplugging a few things and starting over with a more silent, less animated slate.

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