Attention and Learning

This post about attention and learning started with some ideas stimulated by Noah Charney‘s novel The Art Thief (2007).

I liked his suggestion that “logic and observation are universal tools … that no one realises they have.” In the novel he points out that students in the Yale University Medical School are required to visit the Yale Centre for British Art. This post from earlier this year provides the non-fiction account of this relationship.(This is a post from 2006. See too this article (2001) on the use of fine art to enhance visual diagnostic skills and this link to data from the study.)

All first-year students at the School of Medicine are required to take the innovative class, which was developed by Yale medical school faculty member Dr. Irwin Braverman and Linda Friedlaender, curator of education at the Yale Center for British Art, which houses the world’s largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom.

Braverman and other experts believe that, in an age when physicians rely heavily on high-tech imaging and tests, the art of detailed, careful observation is getting short shrift. But detecting small details can make all the difference in coming up with accurate diagnoses, believes the Yale faculty member.

Braverman began trying to find a way to increase observational skills of medical school students at around the same time that Friedlaender became frustrated with the continued misdiagnosis of a close friend. They happened to meet at a gathering and began laying the groundwork for the class, which makes the most of the museum’s collection by asking medical students to “diagnose” individuals portrayed in its artworks.

Their work brought to mind Max Lucado‘s observation that “to lead the orchestra, you have to turn your back on the crowd”. The combination of Noah Charney’s fiction and the real world work going on at Yale prompted me to think about attention and learning.

I am working through some of my ideas about feedforward and bandwidth.  This week a variety of sources amplified my interest. It started with a misplaced Google enquiry that led me to this discussion of the use of video in a hospital setting (and these citations).

I found John Bordeaux‘s post about personalised learning. John points out that:

  • You are designed to work with incomplete information.
  • You resolve ambiguous input data based on how you believe the world works.

He concludes that “we can provide a system that adapts to the individual minds in our care at every stage.  The science leaves us no option here – ‘personalized learning,’ by whatever name, is a central design principle for a transformed education system.” Some of these issues were raised by Graham Attwell in his post about virtual learning environments and in this post about digital identities.

Just after reading John’s blog post I came across the BrainBoard visualisation from Second Life shared by Jeff Lowe on Flickr.

This led me to think about immersive learning and the possibilities created by virtual spaces. Erica and Sam Driver explore some of these ideas in their post about what makes a virtual environment immersive. They have a detailed table in that post that summarises the immersiveness continuum in which they characterise low and high immersiveness in a variety of factors including graphics, avatars, 3D environment, ability to control viewpoint, physics, size of display, haptics, voice, collaboration and interactivity.

This post about 3D video added to my interest in the attention and learning possibilities available in 3D environments.

It was a short journey from immersive spaces to a link I received about an interactive video platform.

I think this approach has enormous potential and reminded me of the Us Mob web site designed by Katalyst and their more recent Burn site. I think there are some wonderful opportunities available for attention and learning in these approaches and in the function of such innovations as Mag+ (Vimeo link).

And then I found IdeaPaint!

Whilst moving across web posts, I found a post about presentation that discussed the role of storytelling. This video in the post encouraged me to think about how young you can be to understand and share a story. This is the message from the original film:

“One game.  If we played ‘em ten times, they might win nine.  But not this game…not tonight.  Tonight, we skate with them.  Tonight, we stay with them, and we shut them down because we can!  Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey team in the world.  You were born to be hockey players – every one of you.  You were meant to be here tonight.  This is your time.  Their time is done.  It’s over.  This is your time.  Now go out there and take it.”

This is a four year old’s take on the message:

This is the link to Kurt Russell’s version.

The YouTube session set me up for an exploration of story telling and the use of narrative. By coincidence one of the Bush Telegraph programs on Radio National discussed Graham Seal‘s new book Great Australian Stories-legends, yarns and tall tales. This set me of thinking about the role storying plays in attention and learning and how many learning environments are a rich source for stories.

From stories I moved on to a post about pictures by John Medina. John points out the impact pictures have on memory (pictorial superiority effect) and he has some great points to make about text:

The inefficiency of text has received particular attention. One of the reasons that text is less capable than pictures is that the brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures. Data clearly show that a word is unreadable unless the brain can separately identify simple features in the letters. Instead of words, we see complex little art-museum masterpieces, with hundreds of features embedded in hundreds of letters. Like an art junkie, we linger at each feature, rigorously and independently verifying it before moving to the next. The finding has broad implications for reading efficiency. Reading creates a bottleneck. My text chokes you, not because my text is not enough like pictures but because my text is too much like pictures. To our cortex, unnervingly, there is no such thing as words.

John’s discussion of pictures is one of his twelve brain rules. His post led me to a discussion of mind over matter in the classroom and the role that visualisation plays in learning. This led me to Stephen Kosslyn‘s work and his Group Brain project with Richard Hackman.  (I liked this paper about using visual images to improve comprehension too.)

Reading about the Group Brain project took me back to Carl Wieman‘s work as an educator. I listened to a Radio National program about his thoughts on teaching methodology and peer instruction. This discussion led me to Eric Mazur‘s work:

It’s the middle of a class period and two hundred students aren’t listening to the instructor. Instead, they’re engaged in over fifty simultaneous conversations with their neighbors. This probably sounds like a disaster to many teachers. But it’s actually a rousing success: the students are discussing a question which challenges them to think about the material and justify their reasoning to their classmates.

What this wayfinding approach led me to this week was an incredibly rich set of resources around attention and learning. As the week came to a close mention of journalism as effective surprise in an ABC Radio interview with Mark Scott encouraged me to think even more about the learning opportunities skilled teachers and coaches construct. J S Bruner points out that humans tend to respond with “effective surprise” to concepts and artifacts that take familiar things and rearrange them in new ways.  Some observers discuss a chaordic model of change (where chaos and order overlap) and suggest that the most fertile territory for innovation is in the boundary zone, where unlike things co-mingle.

I liked Ursula Lucas‘s (2006) discussion of being pulled up short in this context. She notes in a discussion of teaching that “moments of surprise have two aspects. Firstly, they represent moments when the lecturer is “pulled up short” and recognises the unexpected impact of a learning activity and is propelled into reflection. Secondly, they represent moments when students are “pulled up short” and are propelled into questioning taken-for-granted assumptions about themselves and the subject.”

By the end of the week of exploring attention and learning I realised I still had to look at:

A J Cropley’s ideas about creativity and cognition.

David Hargreaves’ thoughts about conversive trauma.

Learning without limits

Errorless learning

The ABC of XYZ: understanding the global generations

Nettels

The aim of this blog post is to share these ideas about attention and learning and to support explorations in personalised teaching, coaching and learning. Fortunately I did not lose a lot of sleep over this post. Researching attention and learning is a wonderful way to ensure high quality of sleep. But just when it is safe to go to bed you might want to think about the attention and learning possibilities of sleep, dreams and nightmares. Richard Stickgold‘s work and Antti Revonsuo‘s research open up fascinating opportunities to explore the learning possibilities of dreams and nightmares.

Photo Credits

Primer in the Classroom

Irwin Braverman and Linda Friedlaender

Aerial move

Open Air Schooling

Horns of a dilemma

Feedforward

Introduction

Over twenty years ago when I was researching my book Using Video in Sport (1988) I came across Peter Dowrick’s work on self-modelling. I have been fascinated by his work ever since.

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Photo source: this photograph was taken by D Sharon Pruitt. It can be found at Flickr here and is included in this post under Creative Commons 2.0 licence.

Background

Back in 1980 Peter Dowrick wrote a paper with C Dove entitled ‘The use of self-modeling to improve the swimming performance of spina bifida children’. You can download a copy of this paper from the Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis here. This is the abstract from that paper:

The use of edited videotape replay (which showed only “positive” behaviors) to improve the water skills of three spina bifida children, aged 5 to 10 years was examined. A multiple baseline across subjects design was used, and behavioral changes were observed to occur in close association with intervention. One child was given successive reapplications of videotaped self-modeling with continuing improvements. It appears that a useful practical technique has been developed.

In my book I noted that Peter Dowrick suggests that “the visible nature of most physical skills makes them a natural target for video intervention”.  The key message for me then and now is that:

Self-modelling functions more like feed-forward than feedback; subjects see themselves not so much as they were but as they might be. (My emphasis)

Peter Dowrick was an early adopter of video technology and for the past thirty years has been exploring his insights into learning.

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Photo source: The Edsel Show

In 1995 he and John Raeburn reported their work with  children with physical disabilities. In that paper they observe that:

One behavior was treated with video self-modeling and the other was videotaped without further intervention, resulting in a significant treatment effect. Self-model recordings were produced by planning and selectively editing two minutes adaptive-only behavior, which subjects reviewed on six occasions over two weeks for a total of 12 min intervention. Progress was confirmed one year later. The study supports the efficacy of self-modeling for selected behaviors of these children with physical disabilities, and suggests further investigation of structured video replay as an active agent of change.

(David Templin and Ralph Vernaccia explored the use of highlight tapes with music for training in basketball in 1995. Videotapes of each player’s best and most effective plays were supplemented by music and were viewed by the athletes throughout the competitive season. The note that “although a causal relationship between highlight videotapes and offensive field goal percentage was not established, the results did demonstrate a mean increase of 4.7% in overall field goal percentage for 3 of the 5 participants).

In 1999 he presented an analysis of 150 studies that examined the use of self modeling (mostly in the video medium) in a variety of training and therapeutic applications. This analysis is used “to argue for the recognition of learning from the observation of one’s own successful or adaptive behavior (or images of it) as a mechanism in its own right”. This 2007 review looks at 20 years’ of research in video modelling interventions in autism.

In 2006 Peter Dowrick et al wrote about feedforward in reading:

Video feedforward can create images of positive futures, as has been shown by researchers using self-modeling methods to teach new skills with carefully planned and edited videos that show the future capability of the individual. As a supplement to tutoring provided by community members, we extended these practices to young children struggling to read. Ten students with special needs participated in a multiple baseline intervention. Each received tutoring only, followed by tutoring plus video feedforward, another phase of tutoring only, and follow-up. Overall, reading fluency improved significantly for all students; in 9 out of 10 cases, rate of improvement was significantly greatest during feedforward. Other measures (e.g., word identification) confirmed student progress from most at-risk to mid-stream status. We conclude that video images of success with challenging materials may enhance the acquisition of reading skills.

Peter Dowrick’s doctoral research was published twenty years after the first commercially available reel to reel system video appeared in 1956. His doctoral thesis at the University of Auckland was Self-modeling: A videotape technique for disturbed and disabled children (1977). His work has continued through analogue video and on to digital video. This is a link to an early paper about creating a self model film (1979). His 1991 textbook A Practical Guide to Using Video in the Behavioral Sciences (New York: Wiley Interscience) has pride of place on my bookshelf. (This is a 1996 review of the book.)

Sport Literature

Some sport literature discussion of self-modelling includes:

  • Barbi Law and Diane Ste-Marie (2005)
  • Shannon Clark et al (2005)
  • Jamie Baker and Marc Jones (2006)
  • Shannon Clark and Diane Ste-Marie (2007)
  • This is an article about social play (2007)
  • Deborah Feltz et al (2008)
  • Eleni Zetou et al (nd)

Discussion

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Photo source: this photograph was taken by Garry Knight. It can be found at Flickr here and is included in this post under Creative Commons 2.0 licence.

When I first read Peter’s thoughts in the mid-1980s I was immediately attracted to the idea of feedforward. It is hard to explain to a media rich world in 2009 just how exciting video was as a medium in the 1980s. My book on Using Video in Sport (1988) contains a bibliography that was drawn from the origins of using video in sport. The earliest reference I have there is a paper by Anne Rothstein and R Arnold (1976) on videotape feedback and bowling in the first edition of Motor Skills; Theory into Practice.

There was a great deal of discussion about feedback in those days. There was an enormous sense of adventure. Early in the 1990s I read some of Richard A Schmidt’s thoughts about feedback (1991, 1997). Later this led me to explore Gabriele Wulf’s work amongst others ( 2001, 2002). This work resonated with me too and it has encouraged me to explore the possibilities for guided discovery in coaching and teaching environments. It made it possible too for me to explore performances of understanding in play, games and sport.

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Photo source: this photograph was taken by William Kitzinger. It can be found at Flickr here and is included in this post under Creative Commons 2.0 licence.