How to Get — and Keep — Someone’s Attention

Want to captivate an audience? Here's how   By Annie Murphy Paul | @anniemurphypaul | July…

Georgia (Jul 26, 2012)

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Want to captivate an audience? Here's how
By Annie Murphy Paul | @anniemurphypaul |

Sir Lancelot had the Holy Grail. Captain Ahab had Moby Dick. For scientists who study learning, the ultimate quest is to unlock the secrets of engagement. How do we engage students in learning, and then keep them in that state? So ardent is their search that it can lead them down paths that may seem, to the uninitiated, a bit silly — as demonstrated by two recent developments.

Last month, it emerged that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has directed millions of dollars into educational research, has awarded grants to study the use of galvanic skin response sensors in the classroom. Immediately dubbed “mood bracelets” and “educational pedometers” by critics, these are small devices worn around the wrist that gauge the user’s physiological arousal by measuring the amount of sweat on the skin. …

Then last week, a professor of physics education at Kennesaw State University in Georgia reported the results of a pilot study using special glasses that track where and how long wearers direct their gaze. After analyzing the data produced by undergraduates who wore the glasses during lectures, professor David Rosengrant concluded that it was not the case, as many teachers believe, that students were most engaged for the first 15 minutes or so of class, after which their attention gradually slacked off. Rather, he said, student engagement ebbed and flowed over the course of the 70-minute lecture, and spiked whenever the professor used humor, stood close to the student, or talked about material that was not included in the Power Point presentation projected on a screen at the front of the room. Rosengrant also determined that cell phones and the web — especially Facebook — were the greatest obstacles to maintaining students’ engagement in the classroom.




A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit