Cognitive Impacts of Social Media and Digital Devices

As an educator that works both in educational technology and teaching psychology, I have a natural infinity for the intersection between technology and psychology. One area of this intersection that interests me is the impact social media has on us cognitively.

Image Licensed from Shutterstock

Image Licensed from Shutterstock

Interesting research exists about the impacts social media has on attention and emotions. In regards to attention, the research tends to focus on the issue of multitasking. What we are actually doing is not multitasking, but task-switching, which is switching from one task to another very quickly. Many people these days have multiple windows open on their computer and have their smartphone nearby while they work. Social media sites are often open on both devices, especially with today’s students. This issue has been the main culprit in the increase in task-switching. Research is showing that our brain doesn’t really have the capacity to multitask or task-switch. There are biological reasons for this. As this article explains,

“Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation. To make matters worse, the prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, meaning that its attention can be easily hijacked by something new – the proverbial shiny objects we use to entice infants, puppies, and kittens.”

Maybe the brain will evolve its capacity to be an efficient multitasking machine like a computer, but until then, which will be way beyond our lifetime, multitasking should be considered a bad habit because of these reasons and the negative impacts they bring on our ability to focus our attention.

In the realm of emotion, fascinating research exists about how constant use of digital devices is affecting our ability to read emotions in the real world. A 2014 study done by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles found that sixth graders who went 5 days without access to any screens (mobile, computer, or TV) showed a better ability to read human emotions than peers who continued their digital screen habits. The conclusion was that we, especially kids, can’t learn non-verbal emotional cues through digital devices. We can only learn those through consistent face-to-face interactions with other people.

The recommendations for both of these cognitive impacts wouldn’t be to abandon our digital devices completely. Turning them off when we really need to focus on a task is usually a good approach. Otherwise, finding a balance and using devices in moderation would be the best approach.

This post is cross-posted here.

I’ll Have a Big Hack with Cheese, Please

L2-world-logos-7xThe theme of this year’s Learning 2.0 conference in Manila, Philippines was “Disrupt – Rethink – Change.” There were many workshops and extended sessions that directly pertained to the processes of disrupting, rethinking, and changing. The organizers even tried something different this year by having a “Disrupt Strand” where people worked in teams to create a disruption project they could take back to implement (hopefully) at their school. I attended a couple of extended sessions that were directly about disruption. The first was called “Create a Personalized Disruption Plan” and the second was called “Hack Your School.”

Of the two extended sessions that I attended, the one that gave the most viable process was the “Hack Your School” session with John Burns. Along with giving participants time to think about hacks they could do at their schools and how they could pitch the Hackathon idea to admin, he shared the Hackathon process that he facilitated at Shekou International School in Shenzhen, China. He has delineated the process they did from start to finish on this post.

Some key takeaways and essential details from the session were:

  • All members of the community need to be engaged in the process.
  • A design framework must be used to guide the process (Agile or the Waterfall model are recommended)
  • Core hacks should be identified before a hackathon event. You can see the hacks they did at SIS here.
  • Don’t provide judgment during the process as that may slow down an idea or approach.
  • Have resources the community can access during the process. Here are the resources provided for the SIS hack.

disruptstrand1Disruption, rethinking, and changing are definitely not an easy process at any school. There are often long standing institutional processes, community expectations, other priorities or initiatives, external examination programs, and established school cultural norms that create thick barriers to disruption and change. Coupled with the transient nature of international school communities, we start to understand why disruption, and change hard, like pushing a boulder up a hill. This “Hack Your School” process, however, is one that can definitely get the disruption and change ball rolling, as it is a fair and transparent way to build community around change. Furthermore, it creates vertical and horizontal collaboration and gives greater voice to those who might not be heard otherwise. If we want to make our schools more relevant for the needs of our 21st century learner, it’s time to hack.

This posts is cross-posted here.

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