Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age
By Cathy N. Davidson
Five or six years ago, I attended a lecture on the science of attention. A philosopher who conducts research over in the medical school was talking about attention blindness, the basic feature of the human brain that, when we concentrate intensely on one task, causes us to miss just about everything else. Because we can’t see what we can’t see, our lecturer was determined to catch us in the act. He had us watch a video of six people tossing basketballs back and forth, three in white shirts and three in black, and our task was to keep track only of the tosses among the people in white. I hadn’t seen the video back then, although it’s now a classic, featured on punk-style TV shows or YouTube versions enacted at frat houses under less than lucid conditions. The tape rolled, and everyone began counting.
Everyone except me. I’m dyslexic, and the moment I saw that grainy tape with the confusing basketball tossers, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep track of their movements, so I let my mind wander. My curiosity was piqued, though, when about 30 seconds into the tape, a gorilla sauntered in among the players. She (we later learned a female student was in the gorilla suit) stared at the camera, thumped her chest, and then strode away while they continued passing the balls.
When the tape stopped, the philosopher asked how many people had counted at least a dozen basketball tosses. Hands went up all over. He then asked who had counted 13, 14, and congratulated those who’d scored the perfect 15. Then he asked, “And who saw the gorilla?”
I raised my hand and was surprised to discover I was the only person at my table and one of only three or four in the large room to do so. He’d set us up, trapping us in our own attention blindness. Yes, there had been a trick, but he wasn’t the one who had played it on us. By concentrating so hard on counting, we had managed to miss the gorilla in the midst…