Light Offerings

Balance, Focus and Flow in Digital Age Education

Posted by jturner56 on September 21, 2014

This week I looked Clay Shirky’s blog post “Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away.” Shirky is a professor of media studies at New York University, consultant on the Internet, and writer (of Here Comes Everybody).

Shirky’s analysis of Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider to highlight competing demands of emotion and intellect. and the negative impact of multitasking, concludes with his decision to use whiteboard markers as preferred teaching approach complemented by a ban on digital use by students.

His post did highlight the importance of developing educational opportunities that can advance focus, balance and cognitive flow.

Clay is writing about post-school students who are expected to be more independent learners. How much harder it must be working with K-12 students whose emotional control is not expected to be as matured. Particularly when also taking into account the complex teacher diversity in play. This is what social media has brought to us, and how we respond will determine how much we can fulfill the potential of learning for a Digital Age.

It is not insurmountable.

  • used under Creative Commons license (from

    used under Creative Commons license (from

    focus lies with developing tasks, strategies and teacher pedagogies appropriate for the Digital Age

  • cognitive flow is achievable with the right tasks in the right environment for valued outcomes (personal and systemic)
  • balance requires understanding that not all tasks require digital (“lids down” is an acceptable strategy, as long as it is part of professional student engagement strategies)

There is a similarity to how cars enhanced transportation a century ago by making sure the roads, rules, engineering, support (ie mechanics) and required driver skills advanced in sync. Yet never supplanting the need to walk, keep fit, and address environmental issues. We have a way to go, with several barriers, including domination of hand-written exams defining value, still to  transcend. Challenging yet necessary.

(Shirky’s post was also re-posted by Larry Cuban here. I have provided a short response there)

Week 1: Bridges
Week 2: Busyness
Week 3: Beliefs
Week 4: Build (1) School Community + Digital Learning Ecosystem
Week 5: Blog (cross posted here)
Week 6: Build Learning Opportunities
Week 7: Balance


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