Given the chaos and devastation of 2020, and the past several years in general, we all seem to hope and pray that 2021 will better and provide new directions. We have been processing a complex landscape from shelter in place and social distancing to innovative uses of technology and soaking in information and external stimuli. Our minds have wandered, our spirit has been challenged, and our bodies have either been passive or more active. Service learning as an experiential approach provides us with a means to navigate meeting community needs as well as participate in our own learning through a continuum of reflection.
Use of new devices and portable media have changed the way we live our lives. We are living in a world with new cognitive controls and a flurry of emotions requiring our attention. Civic engagement and service learning are two of the most powerful modes of critical thinking to support our personal and professional aspirations. How we perceive what’s going on around us and, subsequently, act and behave is impacted by our values and goal-driven desires. Furthermore, we must be engaged civically if we are to reap the benefits of a just and compassionate society. So as SF State has been immersed in remote online teaching and learning through a virtual way of life for the past year, Zoom fatigue has set in and occasional frustration with technological glitches takes a toll on us. I’m certainly one who loses patience with all that yet have learned to flip the script and turn the challenges into opportunities to cultivate even more wisdom.
In a world where we think we can multitask and do everything well is a myth because cognitive tasks compete with each other leading to a bottleneck; this need for multiple demanding resources leads to an impact on performance. While we attempt to complete multiple activities at once, research shows something is neglected, certain tasks lack quality, and our focus on what’s important and essential suffers. Understanding neuropsychology tells us that the impact of distraction can have dire consequences to our ability to perform, be truly productive, and make effective decisions. Service learning and engaging communities of interest permits us to stay relevant and more focused. It allows us to concentrate our fundamental principles of ‘giving back’ in ways that reduce unnecessary distractions and develop a bond with the individuals we seek to serve, or establish greater quality of the agency-related activities we strive to accomplish. What are your priorities? What are your perceptions of your current environment? Our perception of whatever environment we are working or volunteering is influenced by our attention; yet are we cognizant of the impact of technology and multitasking, overall, on our development? How we interact with others and our environment effects many factors including our social skills, empathy, communication (orally and in writing), and more; this inevitably changes how we relate to each other.
We are novelty seeking creatures. The amount of novelty load increases as we feel a burst of energy yet competing factors, again, lead to distraction and reduction of productivity and ultimately quality. Involvement in service learning can encourage us to change our behavior, shift our awareness, and listen intently to the provocative stories of others. When we participate in service learning that has demands for quality, we must do our best to reduce unnecessary interruptions and set aside the time required to thrive. We can improve our abilities and establish optimal levels of performance as we contribute to enhancing the quality of life of the communities we strive to reach. What will you do to change your behavior? How will you challenge yourself to improve your ability to deal with interference? Why do you want to collaborate with community partners and how will you enhance the relationships you build in a way that is sustainable? We must all practice self-discipline, exercise our cognitive control (e.g., interact with our environment based on our goals) and examine our routines. Last, keep up with the research in your areas of interest allowing us to make more informed decisions increasing the health, effectiveness, and overall quality of our lives and the lives of the communities we serve.
As stated by the late, great Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg on leadership: "Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you."
Be brave, be bold, be curious --
Nina S. Roberts, Ph.D.
Faculty Director of Community Engaged Scholarship & Learning
SF State, Institute for Civic & Community Engagement