3 reasons to read Cathy Davidson's Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn:
1 - The Academic Connection: Davidson is the Duke professor/administrator behind the original iPod program. Back in 2004, Davidson and her colleagues cooked up a plan to give each freshman an iPod, and then an iPod to every member of any class that came up with an academic experiment around the technology. We might not remember just how controversial this experiment was, or the degree to which Duke was criticized for wasting money and getting away from the core educational mission of a university. Turns out, the iPod experiment succeeded on numerous fronts, including launching student driven podcasting, class recording and sharing, learning object creation, and innovative science and language applications. Davidson recounts the iPod experiment in the book, as well as other experiments that she has been involved in as an administrator and in her own courses. She is a risk taker, an attribute often in short supply amongst our academic leaders.
2 - Brain Science and The Big Picture: One of Davidson's big points in Now You See It is that we continue to run our institutions, our schools and workplaces, as if we still lived in the industrial economy in which they were originally built to serve. We continue to act as if information was scarce, and that work had to regulated, monitored, and packaged around the needs of production. Digital tools, mobile devices, and ubiquitous web based communication give us new tools to accomplish our (increasingly collaborative and brain based) work. Research consistently demonstrates that we perform better when we are creatively engaged in tasks in which we are intrinsically motivated. Yet we continue to insist on end-of-term grades (postsecondary), end-of-year high stakes tests (secondary/primary - No Child Left Behind), cubicles and 9-to-5 face time.
3 - An Antidote to the Anti-Digital: Davidson has zero time for the "dumbest generation" or the "Internet is making us stupid" arguments. She references cognitive and brain science research to demonstrate the plasticity of our brains to cope with and thrive in our digitally stimulated environments. She talks about educational institutions that have harnessed game-based principles to create immersive (and highly successful) learning environments. Davidson profiles workplaces that have thrown out the industrial age rule of command and control, of management as supervision rather than leadership and support, detailing how these employers achieve both high profits and high staff retention.
I'm so pleased that Now You See It came out of our academic world, written by someone who works within our system. Her critique of higher education is that of an insider who wants to reform and improve the system, not blow it up. I hope her next book looks more critically and with greater depth at a wider range of academic institutions - that she spends some time away from (the admittedly gorgeous) Duke campus. It would be fascinating to hear how Davidson thinks higher ed can utilize the digital tools, research on brain science, and the willingness to take risks and experiment that advocates to fundamentally redesign our industry.
Until that book comes out, I'd put Davidson as number one on the list of authors to bring to your campus - you can ask her yourself what we might be missing.
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