My attention span concerning most things lasts about five seconds, ten if I’m lucky. A quick cursory glance at the TV as I change a picture’s filter, my cramped fingers nimbly scrolling through pictures from last night during a lecture— you get the picture. The ironic thing is, I didn’t realize how stunted my concentration really was until Dr. Sarah Minegar assigned myself and Centennial SCA Abigail Parsons with a challenge: how long could we go without tapping the home buttons on our smartphones? How long could our attention spans last before we checked back into technology? The answer is about fifteen minutes, excluding sports practice of course. It was with this tricky task that our process of prototyping began.
Headed by Dr. Sarah Minegar, myself, Abigail, and fellow intern Joshua Knighten, our brainstorming sessions began with a copious amount of colorful sticky notes and, more importantly, energy boosting candy. Our mission seemed simple enough: to seek out new ways in contesting flaky millennial engagement when at Morristown’s park (i.e. that 200+ year old cannon is way cooler than your next tweet, but how do we engage you into focusing on it?). The answer, we quickly realized, was not to discard technology from the equation, but to include and consider it as part of each student’s life. Kind of like a third arm, a functioning part of who they are. If you removed an arm, you would find it difficult to function. The same goes for what has become— especially in the lives of younger millennials— an integrated part of their day-to-day routine: technology.
The process of learning and research in conjunction with technology— specifically in this case, cell phone and computer access— is possible! But to do so, a greater understanding of a broad range of personality types was needed, and there are many! The quiet one, the jokester, the too-cool-for-school (or in this case “museum tours”) crew— a variety of personalities that, funnily enough, were the most evident in high school kids (at least in my experience). With our personality types and learning styles gathered and assembled cutely on a rainbow of Post-It notes, our true prototyping challenge began: how do we creatively engage a expansive group of personalities, all with different needs? The answer was a huge conglomeration of posters, sticky notes (including my favorite, the mustache Post-Its), and a whole lot of brainstorming. One of the most important elements developed by our awesome team were the ever helpful Focus Cards. Breaking students up into smaller teams, these cards would aid each individual in the task of concentrating on a sole motif, which they could then discuss with their group. When combined, the Focus Cards accomplished the task of engaging each student, allowing them to build off of one another’s research within their groups.
Once we had had accumulated all of our research, it was time to test it out! With our research gathered under our arms and a tricorn perched on my head, our group began our lighthearted, chirpy walk up to the music hall. We rearranged the rows of chairs into a circle, a ploy to keep attention and discussion better circulated, and began our trial runs. It was here that the Focus Cards began their development. Eventually we made it to the mansion itself, where we discussed how best to affiliate students with life in past centuries. Upstairs, we discovered that the bedroom used by George and Martha Washington had excellent lighting. So of course, a selfie break was necessary.
Many a millennial’s heart can be summed up is with a simple, four letter word. Wifi. Or, more precisely, free wifi, which, coincidentally enough, Morristown’s National Park offers. But in a world of rapidly enhancing technology, there must be a method in which teachers are able to redirect students’ attention by instilling an environment of focus and awareness within museum settings. The answer? Prototyping, hard work, and a bag (or three) of candy.
This blog post by Morgan Haller, Centenary University.