College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

Message From The Dean

March 2021

Dean Gary Pollack

Three decades ago, the theoretical physicist Michael Goldhaber claimed that attention, as opposed to information, would become “the natural economy of cyberspace”.  While information is essentially free and freely available, attention is a limited and fixed resource, and is an excellent example of a zero-sum economy: the attention paid to one thing (when I check the Chicago Cubs’ box score most days during baseball season, for example) cannot be paid to someone or something else. Consequently, competition for attention on-line is fierce, with myriad negative consequences. Charlie Warzel recently summarized Goldhaber’s predictions: “complete dominance of the internet, increased shamelessness in politics, terrorists co-opting social media, the rise of reality television, personal websites, oversharing, personal essay, fandoms and online influencer culture — along with the near destruction of our ability to focus”. Sound familiar?

So, what is the relevance to academic pharmacy? Anyone who has observed a large lecture class from the back of an auditorium over the last decade could tell you: students invest their supply of attention in a variety of ways (posting to social media, shopping online, checking the occasional Cubs score) that compete with what the instructor intends. In the pandemic era, we of course cannot observe these behaviors in classes that are conducted remotely, but we certainly can speculate on how attention as a resource is allocated during remote instruction.

So, as educators, how can we compete for, and win, the attention of our students? One approach is to utilize active learning as opposed to traditional lecture. There is long-standing literature suggesting that lapses in attention are more frequent and persistent when students listen to a lecture as compared to being actively engaged with the material, especially when the engagement involves collaborating with peers. It’s a bit more difficult to disappear into the on-line world when you are part of a problem-solving team.

One of the most significant barriers to implementing active and collaborative curricular delivery is migrating course content to an online-delivery format, which is a necessary (or at least highly desirable) approach to freeing up in-class time for active engagement. Over the past year, most degree programs have been forced to deliver course content with remote, often asynchronous, approaches. For higher education, this might be the singular silver lining of the pandemic. Once content is ready to be delivered effectively outside of the classroom, implementation of an active-learning strategy is a relatively simple and straightforward process. There is good reason to believe that the programs that will “win” in the attention economy will embrace this opportunity.

With optimism for the long-term, and hope for the near-term, including the upcoming baseball season.


Last Updated: 3/4/21