The Brain and YouTube: Research & Haptic Vision

Those who shake their finger at the anecdotal evidence of classroom transformation as shown in my classroom and those of others, now have some hard research to look at. Sometimes, we have to look at other fields that have long relied upon print media to transmit their message: the news media.

In the Online Journalism Review, there is an amazing new article which aggregates many sources of research. The author is Larry Pryor, an Associate Professor at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. He's currently researching the haptics and epistemology of digital news media. I'd like to share some amazing quotes (please read the article) and some thoughts from a teacher's viewpoint.

Article: It feels relevant: biological tactility in news media
The subtitle: Researchers see a body-brain link that might explain how multimedia affects viewer participants in deeper ways than print or television. What does it mean for journalism?

OK, I ask, “what does this mean for education.” (All quotes below are from the article, emphasis is mine.)

Brain research and YouTube

“Neurobiologists and cognitive psychologists—only two of many disciplines that give us insights on how digital technology impacts the senses—have conducted recent research and crafted theories, many of them tentative, on how the brain reacts to information. (For a dated yet excellent overview, see “Nature's Mind; The biological roots of thinking, emotions, sexuality, language and intelligence,” by Michael S. Gazzaniga, 1992.)…

The latest research points to a general conclusion: online digital worlds like YouTube appeal to the whole body, from frontal lobe to the toes. This payoff from multimedia may be unique in communications history.

What about education?
Computer educators have long been snubbed by “traditional” educators who said, “computers are just cool” as to why students were increasingly fascinated by computers.

The result: if it is fun, many educators thought it couldn't be educational. Thus computers have been relegated to the vocational track for about 2/3rds of schools. Big mistake! People who are looking for transformation should be looking for MEANINGFUL ways to harness this new media! (Remember, classroom with a purpose, see my article, Laptop Campus: Bane or Boon)

The Mind-Body Process

“Hansen and others, drawing from scientific research, conclude that the way a person receives and absorbs mediated digital information is a mind-body process. And the online multimedia experience is more complete, more biologically compelling than previous forms of media, including cinema. As Hansen puts it, the new media experience is “qualitatively different from …the ‘verisimilitude' and ‘illusion' of the cinematic image.”…

I have long held that involving technology in meaningful classroom instruction incorporates every sense. A good teacher understands that the more senses that are involved in learning, the better students learn. (That is why I have a well stashed candy bucket! It works when nothing else does!)

I have found through my class' recent work with video and digital storytelling in projects that learning is increased profoundly from familiarity to expertise! Now, I understand why!

Cognitive Change

“New technology enables unique multimedia perspectives that, in turn, open up new possibilities for story telling and may even be changing the way that humans process information. Digital technology, Burnett says, enables humans to “create the foundations for different ways of thinking. … Technology is as much about cognitive change as it is about the invention and the creation of physical devices.” (102)…

Why did it take a journalist to say this! He is truly talking about the cognitive change that Web 2.0 educators are preaching! It is real! It often feels as if many are stopping their ears and fighting the change like the third monkey on the gang plank of Noah's ark! (I've been waiting to use that one.) Why would sane, intelligent people suddenly “go off the deep end” about technology. The answer: we're not off the deep end, we've truly found something transformational!

Haptic Vision in the Classroom

This body-brain connection has profound implications for new media because it downplays “an abstracted sense of vision as the primary sense in favor of the internal bodily senses of touch and self-improvement.” Hansen calls it “haptic vision,” or vision that is engaged with the sense of touch.

All I can say is “Yes!” This is more than visual learning, it is truly engaging vision along with touch and truly when video that has sound is used, the auditory sense comes into play.

Harnessing the body-brain link:

“Instead of separating us from our senses by projecting virtual worlds, computers forge an internal body-brain link. “The source of the virtual is thus not technological, but rather a biologically grounded adaptation to newly acquired technological extensions provided by new media,” says Lenoi”

Fellow educators, we've long known that it is not about the technological aspects of all of this. Last year, my classroom was completely transformed with 6 year old computers. Although we like to have the most recent processor and RAM buses implanted with engorged RAM chips, it is truly not necessary to experience the excitement of student engagement!

New Web 2.0 technology engages our bodily senses. That is why students become “addicted” to IM, chat, video games, etc. Instead of blocking chat, why aren't we delivering teaching over it and transcribing the result? (I am.) Unblock youtube, create video and upload it. Use it or lose student interest!

We should be flocking to the Internet not blocking it! I have a pretty lose filtration policy that blocks all porn and sexual material, but allows youtube, Google video, and games on occasion if I have a classroom purpose.

How to have more intellectually and biologically relevant education

Equally intriguing is the study of how a large percentage of incoming signals get rejected or filtered by the brain. The sensory input often fails to find an instant fit with an individual's meme-building materials, such as stored memories, competitive instincts, survival strategies and the potential for empathy. If journalists understood that process better, they might be in a position to offer stronger news that is both intellectually and biologically relevant.

We need to be in a position to offer stronger educational content that is both intellectually and biologically relevant. This research is vital for us as well.

The Emergence of a new metalanguage

Manovich says that the language of digitization is in an early stage, where cinema was 100 years ago. “We don't know what the final result will be, or even if it will ever stabilize. … We are witnessing the emergence of a new metalanguage, something that will be at least as significant as the printed word and cinema before it.

Although this article is about journalism, this metalanguage will affect us all.

Cross Pollination enabled by the blogosphere
This blog posting is yet another example of how cross pollination between fields is causing the collapse of information float. This amazing article for journalists may have taken years to enter the educational periphery and BAM! Here it is, one day later!

I look forward to seeing what you think!

I think this is a must read article to pass along to superintendants and “non-web 2.0 believers” to get them to begin the cognition that it will take to effect a change in their belief system.

It takes time and meaningful discourse. Pass it on!

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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1 comment

Karyn Romeis September 27, 2006 - 8:53 am

This is a strong argument, Vicki (welcome back, by the way – hope you’re holding out okay). I’m going to print it out and take it with me to my lectures next week to distribute to the rest of my class. It being an education degree, the bulk of the class members are teachers (I feel horribly outnumbered). We get a 25 minute break during the session, and it offers us the chance to get to know each other. I have been stunned by the attitudes towards the online community. The Hargreaves lecture I fulminated about in a recent post sparked discussion as you can imagine. I made reference to the availability online of observations and the results of both failed and successful experiments by teachers from Adelaide to Alaska, only to be asked “What if you can’t be bothered with all that online stuff? What if you’ve got enough on your plate in the real world?”

I was gobsmacked. If they had said, “What if you’re not competent online?” I could have understood that, but “can’t be bothered” and the implication that online is somehow not part of the real world seems to indicate a wilful ignorance of the world today’s teenagers inhabit. My respect for the teachers who take up the fight daily to enlighten teachers in their place of work increased enormously.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere