Engaging Attention

I flew to Melbourne on Friday to attend the Australian Sports Technologies Network Conference.

On my way down to Melbourne the Qantas safety video used Australian Test Cricketers to share safety messages.

On the return trip the messages were presented by Australian Olympians and Paralympians.

I thought the videos were very effective and they prompted me to think about the use of trigger videos to engage attention and offer learning opportunities. I do think short video segments are excellent ways to engage an audience.

Air New Zealand have provided a great example of how this can be done. Their recent safety video (5 million views on YouTube) is structured around Hobbit characters.


Perhaps I have enjoyed these films because I do attend to each safety demonstration on every flight I take. But I do think there are some very interesting pedagogical issues at play here.

What if a passenger’s responsibility for each flight is flipped and that each of us views a safety briefing before we get to the airport? Given the cast of the Air New Zealand flight there could be subtle changes in the storyboard of characters to give almost infinite variations in safety briefings.

Even better … what if passengers created their own safety briefing to come prepared to fly and owned the responsibility for a narrative of safety.

111115 Cirrus

I have read some interesting posts this week.

They include:

An ABC discussion of attention and the visual cortex. (Reviewing Masataka Watanabe et al.’s paper in Science, Attention But Not Awareness Modulates the BOLD Signal in the Human V1 During Binocular Suppression)

News of Real Madrid’s use of Cisco’s Connected Stadium Wi-Fi at the the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. “Along with Cisco StadiumVision, the two solutions will allow Real Madrid C.F. and its sponsors to connect with fans in entirely new ways. And by bringing high-definition video of the game to the numerous screens located throughout the stadium, spectators will be able to catch all the action and enjoy exclusive content, even when away from their seats.”

Phil Davis’s post in The Scholarly Kitchen, Statistics and Storytelling that considers “Two thought-provoking articles published last week in JAMA” that make “compelling and complementary arguments to the rhetorical power of both numbers and words in conveying the message of science” (Reporting of Effect Direction and Size in Abstracts of Systematic Reviews, and Narrative vs Evidence-Based Medicine — And, Not Or.)

A link from Stephen Downes to the chaos leadership graphic in the Steve Collis must pay post on the Design for Learning blog. (By coincidence I found Stephen’s link a day after discussing with Shane Fudge his PhD research: “This study aims to utilize a multi-disciplinary approach involving Crisis Leadership, Chaos Theory and Complexity theory, to attempt to initiate an advanced understanding in Sports Events Organising Committee members to recognize the state of constant adaptation their organisational systems exist in today. By drawing on elements of complexity theory, the study seeks to analyze how a leader’s cognition may improve their cognitive complexity when dealing with and understanding the non-linear and dynamic nature of the systems they work within. The nature of the study is to collect qualitative data to fill the research gap regarding how a Sports Event Organising Committee may utilize a different leadership paradigm to improve their crisis management skills, as well as measure the effects of implementing anticipatory systems on the organisations behaviour. “)

A delightful week of discovery that added to my introduction to Olegas Truchanas.

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Ostrich reads caretaker’s paper

Executive Function and Cognitive Reserve: Effortful, Focussed Attention

I listened to Radio National’s All in the Mind program yesterday.

The topic was the bilingual brain.

The program host, Natasha Mitchell, spoke with Judith Kroll, Janet Werker and Ellen Bialystok about their research into bilingualism. Natasha met Judith, Janet and Ellen at the 2011 American Association of the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington D.C

I found the program fascinating partly because of my own interest in language (stimulated by a Grammar School immersion in Latin, Welsh, French and German) and partly because of their discussion of executive function and cognitive reserve. There is a transcript of the program and a detailed blog post by Natasha.

I was particularly interested in a segment of the program about executive function. Natasha asked Ellen about the cognitive benefits that children and adults gain from being bilingual. Ellen responded:

The cognitive benefits relate to this cognitive system loosely called the executive function or the executive control system. It’s a set of abilities that allows you to perform tasks that require effortful, focussed attention, especially when there’s some conflict or competition. So because bilinguals have to do this all the time when they’re speaking one of their languages and preventing the other language from intruding, it seems that that constant effort and use of that system fortifies it.

In a 2007 paper, Ellen observed that:

The executive functions are basic to all cognitive life – they control attention, determine planning and categorising, and inhibit inappropriate responding. They are normally considered to reside in areas of the frontal cortex, a region of the brain that is the last to develop in childhood and the first to deteriorate with ageing. Speculatively, these executive functions are recruited by bilinguals to control attention to the two languages systems in order to maintain fluent performance in one of them. The massive practice that is involved in that application leads to the hypothesis that these processes are bolstered for bilinguals, creating systems that are more durable, more efficient and more resilient. Thus, for bilinguals, control over the executive functions develops earlier in childhood and declines later in older adulthood.

Ellen’s discussion sent me off thinking about the creation of learning environments in sport and some of the research into attention and expertise.

In addition to contemplating the processes necessary to control two language systems for a bilingual (attention, inhibition, monitoring and switching) I wondered how coaches might develop athletes’ executive function. I think that the acquisition of a second language offers remarkable opportunities to develop effortful, focussed attention.

There are some intriguing long term issues too. Ellen discussed cognitive reserve with Natasha.

This reserve “is a set of activities that people engage in that have shown to be powerful in protecting cognition as we age”. It struck me forcefully that models of long term athlete development and flourishing might want to consider how learning environments can be enriched by language (and classical music).

It would be fascinating to plan a program for athletes that included active rest around language acquisition and musical appreciation. I wonder how such a program would be described. Transformation?

Such a program might shed light on non-specific training and transfer too.

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Lost in Translation