This Week in LIS - 24 January 2014

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Headline of the Week: Concentration, Attention, Walk in the Woods

I have enjoyed reading Nicholas Carr’s book “The Shallows:  What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains” in preparation for his upcoming visit to Luther College. He uses many stories and anecdotes, which are compellingly interesting. He provides many references for follow up, which I want to interpret as a signal for credibleness. He also provides a list of additional books for consideration, which I very much appreciate because the topic is compelling. I am especially fascinated by the topic of brain science, information technology and how it relates to teaching and learning success.  I also read it during a week I was re-reading Brain Rules : 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (listening actually to the audio book while on the drive to and from work), another book that shares similar themes.

Carr’s book is concerned with how our brains are being impacted by the stimulation of web experiences such as surfing, frequent email, continuous social media, etc. especially with respect to ones ability to do deep reading, deep thinking and concentrating.

I was especially intrigued and encouraged with the section that talked about the influence nature can have on thinking and attention and concentration. Carr references research by Marc Berman, John Jonides and Stephen Kaplan at the University of Michigan.  The focus of their investigation was exploring influences on the ability of a person to, top-down, control his or her own attention. In other sections Carr argues the importance of being able to concentrate to learn. The study concludes with, “In sum, we have shown that simple and brief interactions with nature can produce marked increases in cognitive control. To consider the availability of nature as merely an amenity fails to recognize the vital importance of nature in effective cognitive functioning.”

At Luther College we enjoy an extraordinary setting that integrates the modern tools and infrastructure for teaching and learning with a natural environment. This is captured in the Luther College mission statement which proclaims, “As a residential college, Luther is a place of intersection. Founded where river, woodland, and prairie meet, we practice joyful stewardship of the resources that surround us, and we strive to be a community where students, faculty, and staff are enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning.”

It is encouraging to know that brain science would confirm the important value that nature brings to the undergraduate experience and that our “place” provides a extraordinary learning environment.

I very much look forward to Nicholas Carr’s visit to Luther College.

Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

The Shallows:  What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Brain Rules : 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina

The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature by Marc Berman, John Jonides and Stephen Kaplan


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This Week in LIS is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of LIS at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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