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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Olympic Brain Trials
September 26, 2012 - 8:58pm
This past weekend I went to the regional tournament for the senior Olympic basketball games in Springfield, Illinois.  My partner, Ted Hardin, is turning 50 this year, which makes him eligible to play.  Teams from Chicago, Evanston and St. Louis showed up at a spacious Gold’s Gym to play in 3-on-3 tournaments.  A fascinating group of players, including a federal judge in her mid-60s, participated.

One of the players on Ted’s team was John Kennedy, a consultant who works with individuals from the military or people, such as myself, who have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI).  Kennedy has trained snipers as well as other professionals--golfers, CEOs--to achieve better focus and concentration, rule out distractions, recognize patterns, analyze visual cues and make more efficient, sometimes life-and-death decisions.

Since I thought this training sounded pretty helpful for a college professor, I agreed to attend a workshop.  Much to my surprise, the rhetoric surrounding the brain training was very similar to content that my Communication and New Media students are reading in articles such as Nick Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”  As Carr describes, we know from initial studies surrounding students working online that their concentration is declining in large part due to our culture of distraction.  Visitors to research sites are skimming material.  Facebook notices and that little dingy noise your computer makes when you get an email are impossible to ignore!  Who has time to read Remembrance of Things Past?

Before this workshop, I had not realized how my TBI was similar to the concentration battles or the challenge of deciphering complex ideas that many of my students seem to be facing.  The digital universe translates code for us.  We never see the 1’s and 0’s behind the information on our screens.  As one brain training participant noted, her son wakes up and looks at his Swackett app—a weather program that shows a human figure dressed in the appropriate fashion style for the temperature (shorts, sweaters, bathing suits, etc..).  “Now he doesn’t need to know what the temperature scale means!”

A big part of Kennedy’s training works toward improving the speed behind translating a visual cue (e.g., an arrow pointing up) into another type of sign (speaking the word “north”).  He asks participants to speak and explain complex or abstract processes (e.g., working out a puzzle) to each other.  These exercises resemble facilitated learning practices in the classroom—where the student becomes the teacher.  Cognitive science (and the Internet) are transforming both TBI therapy and the classroom.

At the end of the workshop I felt both exhausted and excited--surprisingly ready to teach my 3-hour evening class.  It should not be surprising that Kennedy’s team (and Ted’s) won a gold medal at the senior Olympics last weekend.  Both guys are pretty smooth at racing around the court and sinking outside shots…


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