Powering Up: Social Media and the New Classroom

Just a few years ago, when kids began having their own phones in large numbers, schools freaked out. At my daughter’s junior high, phones had to be hidden away in backpacks or lockers. Any teacher who observed a student with a phone was required to seize it. The phone was then taken to the office, and there was a $15 fine to get it out of hock.

Two years later, my son is now in the same junior high. Phones and other electronic devices are no longer pariahs; in fact, students are encouraged to bring their personal phones or iPads. Teachers can request that their students use them during all kinds of lessons, from geography to science, even English, to look up quotes or biographical information. Students can also use their phones during “passing periods” and at lunch. (I suspect there will be a lot more fund raisers this year, seeing as how the cash cow of phone seizing is no longer being milked. )

Of course, it isn’t just the fact that teachers and administrators are tired of fighting the ubiquitous phones and their larger cousins. Slowly, educators are realizing the benefits of social media. And, as those in charge learn more about the remarkable versatility of the internet, the applications are becoming an integral part of the students’ learning experience, arguably making them more engaged and interactive than ever before. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and even one of the relatively new social media sites, Pinterest, are giving education a much-needed boost.

Here are a few of the ways educators are employing the power and persuasion of social media:

Twitter:  “Teachers have been setting up subject or class Twitter accounts that students can follow. The teacher then tweets information related to their class. Some even set homework via Twitter,” reports The Guardian, in their article “Social media for schools: A guide to Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.” Twitter, as many have discovered, is also often the fastest way to find out about breaking news.

Facebook:  I have often asked my own students to post a specific status and have their friends respond. Then, the following class period, we discuss those responses. For example, I recently had them read Hal Niedzviecki’s New York Times article, “Facebook in a Crowd.” Niedzviecki wonders what would happen if he invited many of his “virtual” friends to a real life cocktail party. Of the several hundred invitations, twenty people accepted; one actually showed up. I asked my students to post as their status, “Is a virtual friend a “real” friend?” We had a lively discussion that could not have happened otherwise.

Pinterest:  Not just a place to “pin” your favorite recipes or cute cat photos. Many teachers have found great success, especially for their highly visual learners, using Pinterest’s “Tutorials.” Here, among other things, you can learn, step-by-step, how to create QR codes, or become more proficient in Photoshop, or learn how a touchscreen works.

Tumblr:  Again, a great site for students and educators. More and more companies have begun to “tumbl,” as it is a great way to find archival materials as well as current news and discussions. Some of my favorites, which I often use to prepare lectures, are the tumblrs of “The Paris Review,” Life Magazine, the New York Public Library,  NPR’s Fresh Airand, of course, eNotes

How do YOU use social media in the classroom? Whether you are a teacher or a student, we’d love to know.


One of These Days, None of These Days: Why We Procrastinate

The Science of Procrastination and How to Manage It

Sorry everyone, I meant to post this last week…

Sound familiar? If you’re a human being (and I’m betting you are) you’ll have procrastinated at some point in your life. More likely, you’ll have procrastinated a lot in your life.

But why is that? What is there in our genetic makeup that causes all of us to struggle with procrastination?

The duo behind AsapSCIENCE answers that very question. Thankfully, they do so in the form of a YouTube video, which means you can procrastinate your procrastination by watching a video on how not to procrastinate… Ah, the delicious irony.

Though the psychological causes are still debated, there’s a human tendency to over or underestimate the value of a reward based on its temporal proximity. This is often referred to as “temporal discounting.”

Basically, temporal discounting is a fancy explanation behind why you’d rather watch that cute video of a Costa Rican sloth orphanage NOW and write that important research paper LATER.

And it gets worse the further away your deadline is. Have a deadline at the end of the term, or even the school year? As it turns out, your weirdly-wired brain currently considers that exam or project of less important for being due further into the future.

Human motivation is highly influenced by how imminent a reward is perceived to be, meaning the further away a reward is, the more you discount its value. This is often referred to as “present bias” or “hyperbolic discounting.”

This is why students cram; you don’t realize the value of a high grade until you come close enough to the time that grade will be evaluated. And more often than not, procrastinators will have acted too late to achieve the grade they really want.

So there’s the science of why. Now, how to keep your procrastination in check…

1. How can you counteract present bias? Well, if the root of procrastination lies in the distance you are from your eventual deadline, why not bring that deadline closer? Setting smaller deadlines for yourself that line the way to your ultimate deadline is a good method to avoid last minute scrambling.

2. Immediate reward vs. future reward–so, a reward that’s far off in time doesn’t hold the same weight as some immediate satisfaction.  The best way to prevent the immediate reward being satisfied by Facebook or YouTube is to grant yourself another kind of reward. This could be a snack, a study break, or 15 minutes of browsing time. The important thing is that it has to be immediate. Telling yourself you’ll enjoy sweetmeats and other luxuries after you receive the grade you want is nice, but it won’t stop you from procrastinating before then.

3. Related to the above, you might want to try the Pomodoro technique. This involves the use of a kitchen timer, set at 25 minutes, to improve your stamina for studying over time. You spend a little bit of time on, a little off, and in the process you gain the ability to judge the amount of time and effort you’ll have to put into each assigned task, thus allowing you to manage your future time more effectively.

4. And if all of that still can’t peel you away from distractions, well just uninstall the internet. Seriously. Working writers do this all the time. There are even downloadable programs for it, like Concentrate and StayFocused (both for Chrome) and Leechblock (for Firefox). If you need the Internet to study, don’t panic; you can use these programs to temporarily block yourself from the sites most offensive to your study time (because there’s no way you’re using Facebook and Pinterest to study).

Furthermore, if you can practice the art of avoiding procrast… Oh hey, look, another cat video!


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