Arushi Lakhan-Pal

On the first day of classes of my first fall quarter of college, I traipsed nervously into my first college lecture of over 100 students for my class on Antarctica. Buchanan lecture hall was easy to find, which I appreciated, but as soon as I entered, I felt a panicked, overwhelmed feeling creeping up on me. The hall was huge, with rows of filled seats all facing the front, where my professor stood. As the lecture started, I felt my senses start to overload; all of the laptop screens and whispered voices of the people around me began to steal my attention away from my professor. I finally managed to focus back in on the professor, watching in amusement as he showed us a video of a penguin falling over. After a little while of taking notes on his lecture, I found myself browsing through my emails, then my calendar, and then the Urban Outfitters website. Needless to say, my attention was all over the place during that lecture, as well as other Antarctica lectures I’ve attended. To show why that is, and how various factors from this lecture catches or loses my attention, I’ve picked three artifacts from it that I think display the idea of attention. 

One of the artifacts I chose was the set up of the lecture hall. As I mentioned, it’s quite large, and contains lots of students during these lectures. This set up tends to divert my visual and auditory attention to things other than the professor, as there is always a number of distractions around me. Because of this, I go from attending to my professor to attending to what Netflix show someone is watching on their laptop, or what color pens someone else is using to take notes: really anything that is going on around me. Since I go to class to learn from listening to the lecture, I consider this a negative thing. I think this connects to what Mike Rose, an education blogger, believes schooling should attend to. He stresses the importance of the “experience” of school in the “Finding our Way: The Experience of Education” chapter. In the fifth paragraph of that chapter especially, he goes over how it is the experience of school that determines what effect school has on us, and what we end up doing with our education. He argues that the experience of education determines how we use that education and what we gain from it. To me, the experience of school is how the learning actually happens, and the ways in which we learn and how that makes us feel and utilize our minds. Connecting back to my Antarctica lecture hall, I think Rose would believe that the set up and style of the lecture doesn’t lend itself to the experience of schooling, as it is just hundreds of kids sitting and watching without doing much other than listening and perhaps taking notes. It’s more of an experience that the student is feeling or watching, not an experience that they are actively participating in. In his work, Rose uses the phrase “flat disconnection” to describe a schooling experience that he’d had, and I feel he would use the same words to describe my lecture experience. To me, this phrase entails a lack of engagement with the professor and the material, and a lack of interest. This artifact does seem to foster a “flat disconnection” for me, as it makes me feel detached from the learning material and less motivated to learn. However, I don’t think this style of lecture is necessarily a bad thing. I agree with Rose that the aftermath of schooling is deeply affected by experience, making the experience very important, but I don’t think that students must be actively doing something, or being inspired by something, all the time in order to have an overall experience of growth. The effectiveness of learning styles depends on the student; a lecture hall can be an effective learning process, it just isn’t very effective for me. So in theory, a lecture hall set up is a fine experience of learning, but in my case, this artifact makes it more difficult for me to learn. 

Although the setup of the lecture tends to divert my attention away from my professor, my second artifact allows me to refocus it back towards learning. My second artifact is the projector slides that my Antarctica professor presents during his lecture. He uses them as a learning tool, taking the information from them and expanding on it in within what he says. The forms of information on the slides vary, ranging from bullet points on the composition of Earth’s atmosphere to videos of penguins falling over to videos of my professor himself in Antarctica. No matter what it is, he goes further in depth on the information, helping us connect what we see to what he wants us to take away from the lecture. This variety causes me to attend to the slides more. Each sound from a video, laugh from a student because of a joke from my professor, and vivid color from an image draws my attention back to the slides – whether it had been straying in the first place or not. This allows me to shape my attention the way I want to during the learning process; the fact that the slides are more interesting helps me focus my attention on them, which is my goal. I believe this is the professor’s goal as well in adding in jokes and funny videos to his slides. I think he values having some kind of connection with his students, even in a detached setting such as this, so he does what he can to promote engagement between students and himself, and between the students and the material. He likely knows how difficult it can be to train one’s attention on his lecture for an extended period of time, which encourages him to make his slides more interesting in order to invent the students’ attention towards himself. 

While I do spend a portion of the lecture being distracted by the doings of other students on their laptops, my own laptop( and my third artifact) preoccupies my attention just as much. I use my laptop to take notes during lectures, and it allows me to organize what I’m learning in a way that is effective for me. Many students swear by taking notes by hand, claiming that it helps them remember what they write, but for me, I need to be able to reorganize my notes digitally. Some teachers will even ban taking notes on a laptop due to the distractions they pose. I think this is valid, as I am a good example of someone who gets easily distracted by it, but for me, taking notes by laptop is just what works for me and my learning style. Outside of lecture, I use my laptop for many other things, including texting and emailing, and general browsing of the Internet. Using my laptop solely for notes during lecture can be difficult, as all of its different functions can be distracting and cause me to want to attend to those instead. I’ll often end up sending texts, reading news articles, or doing really anything that can catch and retain my attention. This interruption in my learning often causes me to consider using paper to take notes, as I want to keep my attention focused on the professor and not the many uses of my laptop. Every time though, I decide that the occasional distraction is worth the convenience and usefulness of taking notes on my laptop. So, the positive aspects are worth the negative ones for me.

After sitting in the Buchanan lecture hall twice a week for a few weeks now, I’ve discovered what captures my attention and what doesn’t, and learned to have some regulation over that. It’s interesting to see where my attention wanders when I don’t restrain it. I can’t control it fully, but my awareness of how it is affected helps me observe and readjust it.