Monthly Archives: March 2015

Concentration, Distraction, and Higher Ed

This post grows out of an informal conversation this morning in the T.E.C.H. Playground about study & writing habits, digital devices, and work in higher education.David Levy at the University of Washington asks his students to sit quietly before beginning each class period–a brief period of meditation or simple quietness with no interactions between each other or via technology. His aim is to help students find balance between thought processes and abundant information & media saturation. Here’s the story via The Chronicle.

I discussed this article with undergraduate and graduate students and asked: how do you study? when you need to concentrate on a task, what steps do you take to reduce digital or personal distractions? Responses included finding a separate physical space (computer lab, coffee shop, here in the Playground), setting timers for work time and rest/online breaks, and noise-cancelling headphones with digital devices kept at a unusable distance. The students mentioned a strong desire to stay connected while studying. Here’s another article on digital distractions.

I asked: for which apps have you turned on Notifications or Alerts on your mobile devices? I heard: Texting (the most repeated response), email, GroupMe, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, ESPN, TriviaCrack, Reddit, AppUpdates, Weather, podcasts, Google Opinion Rewards, and TimeHop.

What digital distractions do you encounter or find yourself falling into? Are the distractions from studying, writing, and work harmful? How can we help students and ourselves overcome distractions if they adversely affect their and our abilities to study, write, and work?



“Know Thy ‘Selfie'” Using Selfies in the Classroom.

Our students are big fans of selfies–digital self-portraits. Maybe you do, too! Academics have created the Selfies Research Network to study the phenomenon. What about Selfies in the classroom? Johnson,¬† Maiullo, Trembley, Werner, & Woolsey (2014) note that selfies can facilitate student interaction, enable class bonding, and encourage interactivity between students both in and outside of classroom confines. They have also used Selfies as ice-breakers and experiential-learning opportunities.

In teacher preparation programs, how do we encourage our students to think critically about the selfie as cultural artifact? Mark Marino at USC developed the “Know Thy Selfie” assignment in which students critically examine their own¬†selfies for certain identity characteristics: our race-ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and socio-economic status and write an essay based on their analysis.

Adeline Koh & Emily Van Duyne adapted the essay assignment into an in-class discussion with eight questions.

Have you done any exercises using selfies in your courses? How might you? Drop us a comment below or come chat with us in the T.E.C.H. Playground!



Facebook in the Classroom

Several faculty members have talked with us about how they’re using Facebook in their courses, both online and face-to-face. They report that students are oftentimes more engaged in Facebook class groups than in Online Classroom discussions.

This article from Faculty Focus highlights ten ways that Facebook has improved a class.

What is your take on using social media apps to engage students? Have you used it, would you be willing to? What opportunities for research could emerge for you by doing so?

Drop by the T.E.C.H. Playground to chat or leave a comment below.


Minecraft in the Classroom

If you’ve spent any time around 6-12 year old students lately, you likely heard them mention Minecraft. It’s been around for several years now but you may not have experienced it. So, what is it?

Minecraft is a game where the player controls a character who will dig (mine) and build (craft) various blocks in a complex 3d world. The graphics are very “blocky”–everything is made of blocks: earth, wood, water, stone, wool, food, etc. A better introduction to the world of Minecraft can be found on this blog:

Students can learn to code, plan and complete complex tasks, and design their own virtual worlds. Many teachers are using Minecraft in the classroom for assignments; for example, instead of asking fifth graders to write a paper report on the Mayan civilization, how about asking them to craft a Mayan village instead? Minecraft allows them to do just that. This video shows students using Minecraft and teachers talking about how using the program has changed how they teach.

From the MinecraftEdu website:

MinecraftEdu provides products and services that make it easy for educators to use Minecraft in the classroom. We make a special version of Minecraft specifically for classroom use. It contains many additions to the original game that make it more useful and appropriate in a school setting. We also offer a cloud-based solution for hosting Minecraft classroom servers so students and teachers can connect and play together. We also host a library of lessons and activities that are available for free, and there is a vibrant, active teacher community exploring uses of Minecraft in the classroom. Over 3,000 teachers in 40+ countries have used MinecraftEdu to teach subjects from STEM to Language to History to Art.

The College of Education Professional Education Unit hosted a Minecraft discussion last semester that was well-attended and piqued our preservice teachers’ interest in using the software in their classrooms. Digital citizenship, virtual classrooms, and gamification are all possible with Minecraft. Students love it and spend countless hours ‘crafting.’ How could we leverage their interest?

If you would like to experience Minecraft, come by the T.E.C.H. Playground…we’ll play and learn!