The Digital Immigrants Were Avenged

What a fantastic day . . . it took some time to process everything I learned from the DEN Virtual Conference yesterday. Thanks to Lance, Hall, Steve, Matt, Mike, and the hundreds of Discovery Educators who made the the first-ever DEN Virtual Conference a success.

RJ already posted about Lance’s “Lost in Translation” keynote. I’d like to comment on Hall’s afternoon keynote. By the way, his presentation materials for “The Revenge of the Digital Immigrants” keynote are posted on the Discovery Educator Network Speakers Bureau.

Hall spoke about the power of media to engage and motivate 21st century learners. He reinforced what contemporary brain research is consistently asserting – that our limbic system processes stimuli faster and more deeply than our neocortex.

This is critical knowledge for educators. Patricia Wolfe (Brain Matters) stated that novelty, intensity, movement are key factors in the filtering process to determine if our brain will attend to stimuli and move it to short-term memory.

Robert Sylwester (A Collection of Neurons) concurs: “emotion drives attention and attention drives learning.”

Translation for teachers: if students are not paying attention they are not engaged, and, hence, they are not learning.

Here is some research to explain what Hall was summarizing. (from A Collection of Neurons)


The brain is biologically programmed to attend first to information that has strong emotional content. It is also programmed to remember this information longer. The thalamus is the relay station that receives incoming information and sends it to the appropriate part of the cortex for further processing; also sends a duplicated message to the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain that determines the emotional relevance of incoming stimuli. The cortex is the part of the brain that processes incoming stimuli rationally, to place it in context to make sense of it, and to decide on a course of action. The pathway from the thalamus to the amygdala is only one synapse long, allowing the amygdala to receive the information approximately a quarter of a second sooner than the cortex.

Larry Cahall, of UC Irvine, asserts that “anything a teacher does that engages students’ emotional and motivational interest will quite naturally result in stronger memories of that which engaged the attention.”

What most Discovery Educators already know well is that technology and media have the power to capture the attention of their students and result in more enduring learning experiences. The North Carolina State University / Friday Institute’s research production, Having Our Say, gives students the voice to reinforce the power of technology in learning. When you have the opportunity, watch the Having Our Say video that the Friday Institute produced.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s Generation M research study has concluded that the average 8-18 year-old American student spends 6.5 hours per day immersed in media content. This saturation has altered the way that 21st century students process information and prefer to learn. Discovery Education streaming provides a wealth of engaging media that teachers can use to appeal to the changing learning profile of the digital natives in their classrooms.

Hall offered some great examples for how teachers can harness the power of digital media using DE streaming content, iPods, and other devices. If you are interested in learning more about the power of media and how it can be integrated into classrooms, be sure to check out Hall’s Discovery blog, Media Matters, and the presentation resources posted on his Speakers Bureau page.


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