Attention Mindfulness Journal

A friend recently asked for the “attention journal” assignment I am using in my introduction to digital scholarship course (WSP101 on this blog). I’ve pasted the assignment in below. This post is a description of what I want to accomplish by the assignment and how I am conceptualizing it. I’d love your feedback and comments!

I got the idea for this assignment from reading Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart. He discusses David Levy’s (University of Washington) mindfulness assignments:

Levy created a college course called “Information and Contemplation.” In addition to teaching breath awareness to his students, Levy asked them to keep a log of their email behavior for a week, noting how their body and emotions felt, and how they were breathing while they were online.

(Rheingold, Net Smart, 73)

Here’s a brief feature on David Levy (I’d love to learn from him!) And here’s a Google Tech Talk by David Levy. While Levy is an expert on teaching technology and awareness, this semester is my first foray into this field. I backed into deciding to teach awareness after deciding to have my students use Twitter and to blog and share all their coursework for a class this semester. I knew that I would need to confront many issues: screen fatigue, differential device access, social media concerns, identity and FERPA questions, etc. And I’d also need to explain to my students WHY I was trying to get them to spend MORE time on social media–Twitter and Medium. Most messages students receive about social media is that it is a waste of time, a threat to their future (drunken posts, etc.), merely a platform for marketing (true enough sometimes), etc. Here I was arguing against all of that.

So I wanted to begin the semester by asking students to really think about their own engagement with technology. What do they do? What do they like and dislike? How conscious are they of their own body and breathing when scrolling through a social media feed? How aware are they of their own technology practices?

I also want to put students in the driver’s seat. What are their interests in relation to their own technology use? The course will be both investigating these questions and also practicing skills related to developing personal learning networks. It is crucial, then, that students come up with their own questions about these topics. I want them to learn something useful, to find a reason that this class will help them in their own learning goals.

Here is the assignment I developed. It is largely borrowed from an assignment in a course titled “Contempletive Practice” taught by David Ambuel and Angela Pitts at University of Mary Washington. I left the terms of the assignment deliberatedly vague: what counts as “technology use,” for example. Phones? Laptops? Video games? Students asked these questions in class, and I turned the questions back to them to answer. They also asked “am I doing it right?” in various ways and I consistently told them that there is no right and wrong in this observation of themselves. They also asked “what am I trying to find out?” (which is a great question, really), and I bounced that back to them as well–“what do you want to learn about your own attention/technology combination?”

I haven’t yet seen their blog posts, but I’m excited to discover what they made of this assignment.

Here’s the assignment:

Attention Log

Throughout Week 2 of the course, you should keep a regular “attention journal” to notice how your attention moves while you are online. This exercise is to help you become more aware of how your mind–in combination with the Web–works. There is no right or wrong way to place your attention for this exercise. My hope is that you will simply observe your own attentional practice.

In order to do so, please keep a log of your engagement with online media for one week. Each session should be a minimum of 15 minutes, and you should observe at least 5 sessions.

As you surf, or do homework online, or scroll through social media, remind yourself to notice what you are thinking, how you are breathing, what position your body is in, if you are feeling anything (emotionally or otherwise). Again, there is no right or wrong answer to any of this–just mindfulness of what you do. In making entries to your journal, you want to strive for brevity, accuracy, and precision.

Make a separate entry for each session.  Use the entries to describe your practice in detail, but you do not need to be repetitive, i.e., you may combine similar traits.

For each session, respond to the following questions:

1. Date,
2. Physical Space and means of access to Web
3. Duration of session,
4. What occurred,
5. How you noted it,
6. What happened to it,
7. What worked,
8. What did not work,
9. Other comments.

This assignment is gratefully adapted from a meditation journal assignment:

Blog Post & Tweet

After students complete the journal itself, they then are asked to write their first blog post of the semester (week 2.5) summarizing and narrating what they learned from the journal. They then tweet the link to the post to the class hashtag, so everyone can read it.

4 Replies to “Attention Mindfulness Journal”

  1. That’s a terrific assignment! I like the way that you’re asking the students to gather specific data and review it, not just write a 5-paragraph essay on “social media and me”.

    This might be a good way to get a handle on my email, come to think of it…

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