Posts published in August, 2012

Digital Distractions In The Classroom : Advice For Professors And Students To Overcome It

Guest Blogger: Stephanie Brooks

In a 2011 study, students around the world were asked to go without technology for 24 hours. The experiment, called “Unplugged”, revealed that 4 out of 5 students responded to a technology-free world with intense anxiety, even experiencing physical symptoms of addiction withdrawal.

It should come as no surprise then, as we enter this new school year, that web browsing and texting serve as major distractions for students. Studies across the country are showing that college students are texting during class; and it only takes a few minutes of observation in a college lecture hall to see that Facebook and web browsing are prevalent behaviors.

Beyond serving as a minor annoyance and classroom distraction, studies show that the Internet is changing the way our brains process information. The Internet is also opening up new doors for independent studies, which is raising the bar for professors.

How the Internet is Changing Minds

Experts agree that patterns of thought developed by Internet browsing make it difficult for students to concentrate on a single source of information. Boredom or lack of focus serves as cues to surf the web for more engaging sources of information or entertainment.

A mind trained by the Internet jumps through multiple pages and articles and has difficulty focusing on lengthier sources such as books. Parallel to this change is the developing need for constant stimulation among digital natives and others who are immersed in media.

Daniel Anderson, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts suggests that the perceived need for technology could be traced to the stimulation it provides. Anderson was quoted in the New York Times article “Growing up Digital, Wired for Distraction,” as saying, “If you’ve grown up processing multiple media, that’s exactly the mode you’re going to fall into when put in that environment – you develop a need for stimulation.”

How Professors are Responding

Some professors are labeling Internet browsing as a classroom distraction and are responding to the trend by including anti-browsing policies in their syllabi. Professors are also trying to meet students halfway, adopting tech savvy approaches to teaching, including microblogging through Twitter to promote classroom discussion.

“Some of us may bring online teaching tools into our classrooms by, say, assigning a series of high-quality blog posts, showing a YouTube video or “Ted” talk, or arranging Skype discussions with professionals in our field,” writes  Barbara King in an NPR opinion piece. King is a professor of biological anthropology at the College of William and Mary. She discourages students from browsing in her class, writing that technology “fragments our attention and interrupts the joy of full immersion in thinking, problem-solving, and questioning.”

From a Student’s Perspective

Although some students admit that social media is a potentially detrimental distraction from learning, an opinion piece in The Harvard Crimson, written by Hemi Gandhi, argues that Internet browsing is often used at the discretion of students based on perceptions of their Return on Time Investments.

Even the best classes offer periods of lull or redundancy, and these are the times, according to Gandhi and her classmates, when surfing the Internet yields the highest return.

“During class, students will give their attention to whatever they think will give them the most utility in each moment. Past generations of students must also have wanted to maximize their ROTI during class. But technological innovation has provided today’s students with more options to do so in real time, via their smartphones and laptops,” Gandhi writes.

In a world of constant information sharing, professors no longer hold a monopoly over knowledge. Open courseware sites offer free classes. YouTube is teeming with instructional videos. In every aspect, the Internet is a competing source of information and engagement. Students have the option to educate themselves, and unless professors provide an actively engaging course, students will succumb to their distractions– every now and then, at least.


Stephanie Brooks is a freelance blogger who regularly contributes her knowledge of education trends to addition to covering topics related to education, Stephanie also enjoys writing about technology and pop culture. Feel free to leave questions and comments for her below!


How Much Algebra Is Enough For College Success?

Experts and educators are divided on what to do about America’s math problem. Should we scrap algebra altogether, or try instead to better prepare students to understand it? A recent New York Times op-ed asked the question, “Is Algebra Necessary?” And a Complete College America report suggested placing “students in the right math’ instead of requiring college algebra for everyone. (Hechinger Report, 08/22/12)

How Analysing Student Data Can Improve The College Experience.

Colleges across the country are embarking on data-driven experiments, following students’ digital breadcrumbs to deliver a more personalized college experience  that also enhances student persistence and completion.Muhammad Saleem published an infographic on how big data is changing the college experience . This is the best presentation that I have seen to understand how data mining works. This is a growing trend well worth watching.


10 On Line Tools To Help College Students Get More Done

Guest Blogger:  Lauren McPherson

If you’ve ever decided to spend an hour working on a paper and only got as far as the first two sentences, you might need help improving your productivity. Instant messaging clients, e-mails, Facebook, blogs, and many other sites and apps can really sap your time, which is why online tools for time management and productivity are so popular. In addition to keeping you on track, these apps can help you get more done in less time with helpful reminders, time management tips, and more.TextExpander

TextExpander is software for Mac operating systems that allows you to insert and manipulate frequently used text into documents. With just a few keystrokes, you can insert text such as cover sheets or snippets of HTML code. For those taking foreign language classes, TextExpander allows you to insert accents with easy to remember shortcuts into virtually any document. Plus, you can make your e-mails look even more professional with TextExpander’s e-mail signature feature, which allows you to add images such as photos or logos to your custom signature. Try the free trial, or purchase the software for $34.95 with a 90 day money back guarantee.


RescueTime for Mac and Windows machines will help you get the most out of your class days. The software tracks how you are spending your time online to help you identify how efficiently you’re really working and promote self-management by showing you which sites and programs you’re using through comparative reports and graphs. It also allows you to voluntarily block sites that might be distracting you from tasks that need to get done. You can use RescueTime to schedule time for specific projects or tasks to maximize your productivity. RescueTime Lite is available for free with access to select functions of the software, or you can purchase RescueTime Pro for $72 a year after a two week free trial.


Carbonite is a well known name in data protection, and you might be asking why this program is on a list to get more done with your day. Well, how long would it take you to get back on track if your computer crashed and you had no back ups for your data? For most of us it would be a week or more. With Carbonite, you can automatically back up all of your data according to your own schedule. As an added bonus, backed up files are accessible through any web browser, including mobile browsers, so your files are never stuck back at the dorm. Plans start at just $59 a year.

Focus Booster

Focus Booster is freeware for Mac and Windows operating systems that promises to help users become more productive online using the principles of the Pomodoro Technique from Francesco Cirillo. With the Pomodoro timer embedded in the software, you work on a given task for 25 minutes, take a five minute break, and settle in for another 25 minute block of time. After every four 25 minute cycles, you are prompted to take a 15 to 20 minute break. This type of time management improves focus during working time and prevents burnout. You can either use Focus Booster through a web browser or install the program on your computer. Focus Booster is certified 100% clean by Softpedia, so you can rest assured there is no malware attached to this free program.

Remember the Milk

Remember the Milk is a browser based app that helps you compile those to do lists you always mean to make. You can also install the app on Android, iPad, iPhone, and Blackberry systems, or embed it in your Gmail account. You can create task lists, mark them as complete, postpone the due dates, or make changes on the fly. You can also connect your Remember the Milk lists with your contacts and calendar events for easy to navigate reminders. Set up a basic account for free, or purchase a Pro account that bundles all of the apps and additional functions for just $25 a year.


1Password, from the makers of Knox, works on Mac and Windows operating systems as well as the iPhone, iPad, and Android OS. If you’re tired of creating complex passwords on your own only to forget them the next time you try to log in, this might be the app for you. 1Password creates passwords for you and stores them in your web browser, safely encrypted with AES-128 bit keys. You can also save form information, including credit card numbers. 1Password offers a thirty day free trail, and is just $49.99 to purchase.


Evernote is like a private Pinterest board that allows you to capture, tag, notate, and retrieve anything you see on your computer or mobile phone. Since it is browser based, it works on almost any operating system. Use it to compile recipes, keep track of your ideas, make shopping lists, save web pages, or just remember things that you saw or liked. You can share your Evernote notes with others and access them from any device, all for free.


If you haven’t heard of Dropbox yet, it’s time to open an account. Dropbox is the ultimate private file sharing service, which allows you to upload and save nearly any type of file either to access later from another machine or share with someone else by sending an invitation or file link. It can also sync your files as you work, which ensures that the Dropbox copy is always updated. With files saved to Dropbox, you have an automatic backup in case of accidental deletion or a hard drive crash. You can use the service for 2 GB of data for free, or upgrade to higher data limit plans starting at $9.99 a month.


Instapaper is the perfect tool for those who bookmark web pages to read later, only to forget why the page was added to bookmarks a month afterwards. Instapaper allows you to bookmark pages with a Read Later notation in one click. It works best with Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. For mobile browsing it is optimized for the iPhone, though it also will work with other mobile browsers such as Android. Using it on a browser is free, but you can purchase it as an app for the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch for $2.99.


SelfControl, for Mac operating systems, is a free app that allows you to block specific e-mail servers and websites for a defined period of time. Once set, there is no way to clear the clock until the timer runs out, so there is no backing out from a commitment to avoid certain sites once the clock is started. If you’re really having trouble staying focused on important tasks, this app will help you stay focused – or cause you to look for other ways to procrastinate.


Lauren McPherson is a staff writer for Teacher Certification Degrees, a career site for future teachers that provides career interviews with current teachers, news, and information for getting started in a teaching career.

Latino College Attendance Increases By 160%

San Francisco Chronicle

College enrollment has soared for Latino young adults in the last few years, by some measures reaching levels similar to those among young blacks, according to a study released Monday. Among Americans aged 18 to 24 with a high school diploma or equivalent, 46 percent of Latinos were enrolled in college last year, up from 37 percent in 2008, according to the report, by the Pew Hispanic Center. The report was based on data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Education. Black enrollment last year in the same age group stood at 45 percent, the first time the nation’s two largest minority groups were roughly even on that score in the decades that the information has been collected. Among whites, 51 percent of 18- to 24-year-old high school graduates were in college; 67 percent of Asians in that group were in college. The number of Latinos enrolled in college, which surpassed black enrollment for the first time in 2010, jumped to almost 2.1 million last year, from about 1.3 million in 2008. That is a product of a swelling Latino population as well as the increased rate of attendance. (more)


What Is the Relationship Between College Graduation Rates And Quality?

In truth, if a college has a really low graduation rate, it’s probably not doing a very good job with its students. If a college has really high graduation rate, it’s probably not so bad. But beyond that, it’s hard to get more specific. It appears that graduation rate doesn’t really measure quality so much as it’s just vaguely correlated with quality. Using graduating rates, as they’re currently tracked, to measure college value is, thus, not a very responsible decision. The article is in Washington Monthly.

Do College Graduates Push High School Grads Out of the Economy?

by Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

This week, Georgetown’s University’s Center on Education and the Workforce released “Weathering the Economic Storm.” The report makes an intuitive conclusion that the recent “recession hit those with less schooling disproportionately hard.” Data clearly support this conclusion.

But the reason isn’t because they are less educated, per se. The reason is that those with higher levels of education are now taking jobs that were previously sourced by those with high school credentials. So, does a higher education credential give you a better opportunity for employment? Yes, no argument. But not because of their higher education, but rather, because the workforce will take the highest education available for a particular position, regardless of skill set or need.

A larger percentage of college graduates are now working in fields outside their specialty. Traditional jobs once held by high school graduates are now being filled by college graduates who would otherwise be unemployed. READ MORE….


Pell Grant Is Headed For A Fiscal Cliff

Ed Money Watch

The Pell Grant program is headed for a fiscal cliff that lawmakers cannot avoid by assuming more money will materialize. It’s going to take real money, which means advocates and policymakers need to start making real tradeoffs. So far, neither Ryan nor Obama has made those tradeoffs.

Read More

Public Pressure Leads To Tuition Freeze

Colleges Freeze, Reduce Tuition as Public Balks at Further Price Hikes
After three decades of tuition hikes that have outpaced inflation and increases in family income, students, families, legislators, and governing boards are demanding a halt. Officials in several states — including Arizona, California, Massachusetts, and Texas — are moving to limit tuition increases or feeling intense pressure to do so. (Hechinger Report, 08/01/12)

Four Year Degrees For Community Colleges: Good Or Bad Idea?

Jay Mathews blogs for The Washington Post: A detailed and thoughtful piece by two scholars at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York suggests one way to improve the mediocre reputation of two-year community colleges: Allow them to grant four-year bachelor degrees.  It is not as odd as it sounds. Just because community colleges — which, at the moment, have nearly half of the nation’s college students — are designed as a halfway house to four-year schools doesn’t mean they couldn’t give out BAs in some subjects. In a few cases, it is already being done.

Source: Carnegie Foundation