Twenty twenty twenty-four hours to go, oh-oh

I set the lecture videos for #YogaMOOC to play at 1.5x speed, so that I could get through the material on digital distraction a little faster.

It seems like this is an opportunity for reflection.

It feels like a lot of the literature about online ed and flipped classrooms treats this like a feature. Lectures, a one-way communication channel,  become available where and when we want them in video form. The learner has the ability to rewind and rewatch to get all the information they want. The learner can skip forward, or increase the speed of the lecture, if they feel they already know the content, or just prefer the speaker’s voice to be faster (or are in a time crunch). This respects the learner’s autonomy, which is good for intrinsic motivation, right? It also puts a great deal of faith in the learner’s metacognitive skills – that they really are gleaning everything they think they are from a speeded-up lecture.

The edX interface even allows me to read the transcript and ignore the video entirely. I think this was when the penny dropped for me. One criticism I’ve seen of podcasts in particular is that most of us can read a lot faster than we can listen. So if the goal is to move through content, or to ingest a lot of information in a limited period of time, reading is more efficient than listening. But surely the instructors aren’t just using lectures to support different so-called “learning styles,” and I hope they’re not doing it just because classes have lectures.

No, I assume they’re doing it to share their “gift of voice”. (Thanks to Storycenter for this wonderful term, which wraps up all these wonderful variables of tone, timbre, pacing, expression, and personal viewpoint.) They’re doing it to quickly provide a layer of humanity which is much harder to do with pure text.

And I sped it up, and then skipped it entirely. Which I suppose respects my autonomy, but perhaps disrespects theirs.

I’m looking forward to Todd Zakrajsek’s new book Dynamic Lecturing. Todd’s point, in a nutshell, is that “lecture classes” have gotten a bad rap because of some pretty bad lecture practices, but also because we haven’t done a good consistent job of defining what a “lecture” is.  I might even speculate that we’ve defined any lecture which works (including but not limited to short lectures mixed with active learning exercises) as not a true “lecture class”.

(Bonnie Stachowiak’s got a great discussion with Todd on her podcast if you’d like to get that straight from the horse’s mouth.)

It’s interesting to use some of Todd’s thoughts to examine the #YogaMOOC structure. They’ve done a good job of keeping course content engaging by involving multiple speakers each week. (I might prefer to see more videos with multiple speakers, but even having the videos split up with the 3 instructors does help compared to some of the 1-teacher MOOCs I’ve dropped out of.) I don’t feel like I’m getting a real sense of the different personalities of the instructors – I feel like they’re all in a rather narrow “teacher/presenter” mode – but I can tell that they are different individuals. (And again, I’m the one choosing to skim the lectures, so maybe that isn’t fair.)

On the other hand, the edX interface is regimented in a way which encourages us to think of “Lectures”, “On the mat practice”, “Off the mat assignments”, “Guest interviews” and “Optional readings” as thoroughly separate units. There’s no linking back and forth to let me know that I could go into more depth on a lecture’s topic by checking out a particular reading or interview, or that maybe I could skip from a lecture into a few minutes of yoga practice. The design of the navigation does provide structure, but particularly for this course, it feels like an imposition of order which fights the actual message of the class.

What One Sees

I have more thoughts about digital distraction, but I think I’ll summarize so I can publish this post. For starters, I feel like there’s a lot of sloppiness about whether we want to locate blame in our always-on devices, in the specific qualities of platforms like Facebook and Instagram, in our own habits and choices, or in the cultural values which suggest that anything which can be known should be known, immediately. (That’s a criticism of the discussion generally, not specific to this week’s course lectures.) It seems like, if we want to live more balanced, less distracted lives, then we need to start teasing those back apart.

I’m also deeply concerned about using the language of “addiction” to discuss behavior. I say this because I’m pretty sure that I’m out of step with current psychological research, and I’d love to have someone help me understand why, on a biological level, “addiction” is a more appropriate word than “compulsion” or “conditioned behavior.” I notice that I react very negatively to the expansion of the language of substance abuse to behaviors which don’t involve consuming substances; again I suspect there’s something I’m missing here but simply repeating the phrase is not convincing me that it’s medically useful and not just a rhetorical flourish.

Image credits:

GIF from Cool Hand Luke, taken from The Scott Rollins Film and TV Trivia Blog because it looked better than the one I found on Giphy.

Book cover for Dynamic Lecturing from Amazon.

“What One Sees” by Ryan Cadby, CC-BY-SA 2.0, found by searching for Flickr for “digital distraction” and limiting to Creative Commons licensed material.

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