Does Facebook Make You Smarter?

Learning Through Social Media

 

Five years ago, as a parent, I would have been hard-pressed to advocate a form of social media to improve my children’s intelligence. However, at a conference this past week, psychologist Tracy Alloway explained how her research suggests otherwise- at least in part.

Dr. Alloway has been studying the effects of social media onworking memory—the ability to draw connections between information, to quickly shift from one task to another, and to calmly manage multiple streams of information—for the past decade. Her research has led to the conclusion that Facebook users have higher working memory scores compared to that of Twitter or YouTube users.

Perhaps these differences are attributed to the structural differences of the sites; Facebook is extremely versatile, allowing users to play games, view friends’ photos, and chat all in the same interface, whereas Twitter users “receive an endless stream of information, but it’s also very succinct. You don’t have to process that information. Your attention span is being reduced and you’re not engaging your brain and improving nerve connections,” Dr. Alloway claims.

Dr. Alloway was equally critical of any activity that could be deemed “instant”- whether it was texting or watching a video online. She contrasted these activities to those that could enhance working memory, such as strategy video games or Sudoku. These require more in-depth thinking, more tracking of past actions, and more mapping of future events.

So, has the rise of technology and the internet made our brains lazy? I believe that it has made us more efficient by eliminating the old school method of rote memorization. With the advent of Google and countless other search engines, we truly have the world at our fingertips- easily accessible with just the click of the mouse.

Let me know what you think! Post your comments and thoughts below.

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Brain Change: Why Our Kids Are More Inattentive Than Ever (View this video!)

Today, I appeared on News Channel 8’s Let’s Talk Live discussing how technology is impacting this generation of students.  Scientists are just beginning to study brain changes by looking at MRIs to determine if constant texting, facebooking, tweeting (you name it!) is changing brains.  Don’t panic; the news is mostly good.  Take a look at this short video for some highlights.

During the segment, Melanie Hastings and I also talked about the lure of technology.  Because of so many distractions, this generation of kids is more distracted than ever, and it’s not by school work.  The class of 2011 had the lowest SAT critical reading score (497)ever recorded.  Some say it’s because of diversity with more and more kids from all backgrounds taking the test, but I wonder if it’s not more than that.  If only the reading portion dropped to it’s lowest levels ever, wouldn’t that point to the fact that our kids aren’t reading for pleasure?  Studies show that only about half read for pleasure.

More on how we can help our kids focus in my next blog post…

Ann Dolin

iGeneration Learning: What’s Going on In Our Kids’ Brains?

I was lucky enough to attend two of Dr. Rosen’s sessions at the Learning and the Brain Conference this weekend.   In addition to presenting his own research, he also summarized other recent studies.  Here are the questions, answers, and other tidbits I found interesting:

  • Why are “screens” so appealing to humans? And when it comes to reading, what is the neurological reason our kids prefer to search Google than read a book? Dr. Gary Small of UCLA conducted fascinating research studying students’ fMRIs when they were asked to do two separate things: read a hard copy book and search the internet using Google. He found that kids’ brains almost fully lit up (almost all areas were stimulated) when they used Google, but that only a very small portion was activated when reading a book. The internet produces a hyperactivity of the brain; it makes people more engaged and stimulated.
  • The more friends you have on Facebook, the more gray matter (associated with memory) in your brain. Also, those with a large amount of friends were more likely to have a larger amygdala (part of the brain associated with emotion). Here’s a good visual of brain maturation. Although association doesn’t mean causation, most here at the conference believe there is a causative affect.
  • Children who play violent video games have less activity in their brains that regulate emotion and aggression. The effects can last for a week after last playing a game.
  • Furthermore, people who are addicted to video games have disrupted brain connections in the areas of emotion, decision-making, and attention.

When it comes to attention, a recent study by Rosen looking at the habits of 279 middle, high school, and college students found the following when the students were observed studying for 15 minutes:

  • All groups could only attend to the task for 3-5 minutes before losing focus. They were able to refocus at about 6 minutes, but then were highly distracted between 8-10 minutes. They became highly focused at approximately 14 minutes, probably because they realized they had just a short time left before the time was up.
  • The most interesting finding was that the number of windows the student had open, the more off task they were.
  • Off-task behavior was highly correlated with lower grade point average (GPA). On-task behavior was correlated with higher GPAs.

In a nutshell, Rosen found that the following factors in the study predicted good school performance:

  • How much time the student spent on task.
  • If the student had strategies for studying (more on this in my next post).

And the following factors predicted poor school performance:

  • Switched from task to task often (multi-tasking).
  • High amount of daily media consumption.
  • And most amazingly, whether the student checked Facebook just ONCE during the 15 minutes. This is the factor that was most correlated with lower GPA.

The question isn’t whether technology is good or bad, it’s about how kids can use it wisely. Part of that includes something called “meta-cognition” which is a fancy way of saying “thinking about thinking”. In order for students to regulate their own online habits they must know how they learn and pay attention best. More on the latest on meta-cognition in my next post.

 

Questions or comments? Please post them below!

Ann Dolin, M.Ed. — President — EC Tutoring

 

iGeneration Learning: How Technology Rewires Brains and Teaching Strategies

For the last three days, I’ve been attending the Learning and the Brain Conference sponsored by Johns Hopkins University.  Almost one thousand individuals in education-related fields from all over the country have come to Crystal City to learn about the latest brain research from the world’s leading neuroscientists and psychologists.  This year’s conference title, “Web-Connected Minds: How Technology Transforms Brains, Teaching and Attention”, is of tremendous interest to me as an educator and more so as a parent.  I have questions like:

“Are our kids’ brains different because of their attachment to technology?”

“What are the long-term effects of technology on our kids?”

“Is technology causing our kids to have shorter attention spans?”

The bottom line is that neuroscientists have just begun to study the long-term effects of iPads, iPods, texting, Facebook, YouTube, video games and basically anything with a screen.  Through my next few blog postings, I hope to consolidate some of the newest research from this conference.

The first keynote I attended on Friday was given by Larry Rosen, PhD, from California State University.  Here are some of the basic take-aways from his talk:

  • Although our brain only weighs two pounds, it uses 25% of our energy.  It’s a myth that we use only 10% of our brain.
  • Functional MRIs (performing a task during an MRI) have found that thinking about something actually activates more (and different) parts of the brain than hearing, speaking, and seeing.
  • Our kids are thinking all day long…about technology.
  • There are two types of distractors during learning: internal and external.
  • Thinking is an internal distraction.  Kids may be contemplating, “I wonder if anyone “liked” the photo of me water skiing.”  A common internal distractor is Facebook.  In fact, every one out of five page views on the internet is of Facebook.  More on external distractors later.
  • Rosen says our kids are suffering from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  When they don’t have their phone in hand, they are panicked that they’re missing out on something important.  Yet when we take their technology away, it actually creates more anxiety.  When kids are in FOMO mode, they are not fully available for learning.
  • Solution?  Tech breaks.  Allow your child to have his or her phone during homework.  It can be on the table, just turned over (out of sight, out of mind does not apply to this generation when it comes their phones).  Students should work for 15 minutes, and then take a one-minute tech break.  This one-minute break greatly relieves anxiety and kids are better able to focus.
  • There is no such thing as multi-tasking.  The brain actually quickly shifts from one task to another.  When kids are doing many things at once such as texting, looking at Facebook on their laptop, and reading a text book, they are not doing any one thing accurately.
  • When they are working on many things at once, including homework, they prolong the amount of time they must spend on their assignments.
  • This makes sense to us as adults, but studies show kids think they can work just as efficiently in this manner.  A good solution is a tech break.

In addition, Dr. Rosen described characteristics of the iGeneration (born 1990-1999).  They:

  • Are more liberal.
  • Are more idealistic.
  • Are more socially connected.  Their #1 vehicle is Facebook.
  • Think have a strong desire to be entrepreneurs and believe they can succeed.
  • Have a strong work ethic when they can focus.  The problem is that they cannot focus well because of so many distractors inherent in their environment.

More on technology’s impact on focus and attention in my next blog from the Learning and the Brain Conference.

 

I’d love to hear your comments or questions!  Please post below.

Ann Dolin, M.Ed. — President — EC Tutoring