Category Archives: Technology

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.

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#SchoolofTweet (Learning 2.0 Workshop Takeaways)

L2-world-logos-7xI recently had the great opportunity to attend the Learning 2.0 conference in Asia for the fourth time. Since attending the first one in Shanghai, China in 2007 where one of the first activities the conference organizers had attendees do was to sign up for and use Twitter, I’ve greatly benefited from Twitter being an integral part of my PLN. My personal learning has grown immeasurably because of it by bringing me resources and ideas I would have likely not seen and I have a network of experts and colleagues just a tweet away who can help when needed. I wrote about how my PLN has helped to shape me in the past here.

Jumping forward 8 years, I’ve come to see how important social media can be for the personal learning of individuals. For the last few years, I’ve realized how crucial it can be for the learning, branding, and communications needs of a learning institution. Learning doesn’t just happen between the walls of the school anymore

Image licensed from Shutterstock

Image licensed from Shutterstock

and a school’s footprint doesn’t only run through its immediate community. In both of these instances, learning and learning institutions are part of a global landscape, and this is because of technology. Recognizing this is easy, but getting social media like Twitter established into the whole culture of school can be very difficult. Though many schools now have Twitter accounts, not many schools have it embedded in its culture for the combined purposes of learning, branding, and communication. This is why I attended the #schooloftweet workshop at Learning 2.0. I wanted to see how a school got to where they are in its institutional use of social media.

The presenter of the workshop, Tosca Killoran from NIST in Bangkok, Thailand, has been instrumental in getting Twitter off the ground as a branding and communications tool for the school. I won’t summarize the NIST case study since Tosca has already done that on this website, but I’ll just summarize a few takeaways from the session.

Does branding and social media belong in schools? Yes. With so many international schools coming into existence, we can’t sell sameness. We have to show how our school is different in regards to learning from others. We have to make it clear what our mission and values are and what those look like in action. Stating these on a website isn’t enough anymore. We have to tell our story in real-time. How do we tell our story? Social media. This can help promote the essence of who we are and the perception of how people view us from the outside. At the same time, the more consistent we are in using social media for the purposes of branding, learning, and communication, the easier it is to convince people of who we are. Brands have real value, but in the context of international schools, Brands rise and fall with their employees. Establishing a dynamic and consistent use of social media into the culture of the school is critical so that the process and brand lives beyond any individual(s).

So, who does all of this? Tosca said that she took on the school Twitter account to start the process, but confessed that she was doing that for 3-4 hours every evening at home. She also said that was single, so she didn’t have family responsibilities. This isn’t the ideal approach to get started. Getting started is an issue each school will have to tackle since people are already so busy. Over time, once the process had been established more in the culture of the school, the time she had to put into it lessened since other people were sharing the process. To start spreading the use of Twitter, she suggested having some pre-written tweets for teachers with hashtags. She also said the main school account should follow top universities and other international schools since that will grow the school’s presence among these other important institutions. Lastly, she also recommended that school account have a personality. Though not an easy thing to accomplish in 140 characters, it is an essential part of the branding process.

For further detail that nicely supplements the workshop takeaways, discussing the difference between social media IN schools versus social media FOR schools, check out these blog posts here and here.

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This post is cross-posted here.

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