About Allison Reynolds

I am a sophomore at Virginia Tech and am enrolled in an Intro to Women's Studies class that requires this blog. I enjoy hiking, horseback riding, playing polo, reading, and ice-cream. I have never done a blog before but I am looking forward to this class and learning how to blog.

Social Media in the Classroom

If you ever find yourself in a college classroom, take a look around. You’ll see cellphones and laptops everywhere. According to a survey done by Hack College, 90 percent of students admit to using their phones in class. Their professors noted that while they couldn’t force the students to be off their phones, they would much rather have them put away. Some professors have tried to outright ban all screens in the classroom, while some allow students a few minutes with their devices to “look up answers.”

Instead of trying to outright ban technology in the classroom, why not try to incorporate it? Professors are now encouraging their students to tweet them questions and answers they may have during class. Facebook, while a bit more personal, can be a great way to form study groups and discuss topics from class. I remember being a part of several Facebook groups for classes in high school. Rob James, the author of Engaging Students Through Social Media: Real World Experience, Creativity & Future Employability believes that professors should stop fighting social media and start learning to utilize it. It’s important to teach students how to use technology responsibly and productively.

Social media sites may have a high turnover rate, but it seems like they’re here to stay.

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Social Media Security Blanket

“Social media is an effective way to increase student engagement and build better communication skills. Students who rarely raise a hand in class may feel more comfortable expressing themselves on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. Social networking platforms enable teachers to establish “back channels” that foster discussion and surface ideas that students are too shy or intimidated to voice out loud.”

This is a quote taken from an article from Campus Technology detailing the pros and cons of social media in the classroom. The author of this article argues that social media can help students learn to communicate better. Ever since high school, I’ve only heard the side saying Facebook and Twitter hurt our ability to communicate. “No one calls each other anymore, they all just text. It’s rude” my mom says. Meanwhile, I get several texts a day from her. Likewise, my teachers would tell horror stories of students using text-speak in class, substituting “u” for “you” and several other atrocities.

And here we have someone saying that social media is actually improving the way we communicate. I am not the type of student described in the quote above, but I would much rather text than talk face-to-face in several situations. Friend is coming over for dinner? Why not simply text it instead of calling. Of course, this may be because I pay my own phone bills and I have a limited amount of talk minutes per month (texting is free), therefore I try to save my time for important phone calls. When I relate social media to the classroom, I think of Writing and Digital Media. My professor requires that all students create and maintain a Twitter for the class. He posts updates and information on his on Twitter page. Many other professors have tried similar practices with their students and have been getting successful results. Social media is quick, and most students are familiar with it. When I compose a tweet, I don’t worry about sounding overly formal or adding in the correct amount of information. It is something I use daily, along with many of my peers.

 

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Storify

As the semester comes to an end, I find myself in a rush to complete all of my final projects. Most of them are the standard presentations or papers, with one exception. I decided to use Storify to complete my Writing and Digital Media project. Storify is a web app that allows users to compile different pieces of social media into one story. One of my classmates did their Interrogation the Interface assignment on Storify and didn’t recommend it. Nonetheless, I felt that my topic (Social Media in the Classroom) would be best presented through the medium being discussed.

I thought that with Storify, I could add a bunch of text with a few tweets or videos tossed throughout the essay. But when I tried to write my opening, I was limited to two sentences! After searching through their website and finding nothing about character limits, I decided to read through a few example stories. Most were very short and didn’t contain much information based off of the author. Instead, people grabbed tweets and statuses from others to prove a point. Storify’s search was also difficult to use. Solution? Search the subject you want to talk about in the medium you wish to use (ex. looking up “social media in class” on Twitter).

When we were planning our projects, I figured Storify would be incredibly simple and easy to use. After I started making my own story, I became incredibly frustrated. My struggle with limitations got me thinking: what did we do in past projects when faced with limitations? We use them to our advantage. Sure, Storify wouldn’t let me add more text, but it won’t limit me on the amount of tweets or length of Youtube videos that I can add. Storify may come with limitations, but I can choose to use several other resources to include in my project.

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Bad Students Sit in the Back

Before you select your seat in your classes next semester, you may want to take a look at this article from USA Today. Apparently, sitting in the front helps students establish a better relationship with the professor. Students who sit in the front are more likely to:

  • Maintain eye contact with professors
  • Be asked questions
  • Pay more attention

Sitting closer to the professor makes the student more aware of the lecture. When the professor is right in front of them, students are less likely to check their cellphones or fool around on their laptops. Having classmates sitting behind them may also discourage internet browsing because students know their screen is visible.

Of course, sitting in the front of the classroom won’t automatically make a bad student a good student, just as sitting in the back won’t do the opposite. Many of my classes are smaller, so I am able to maintain eye contact with the professor. In the single lecture class I’m enrolled in, I sit in the very back against the wall. My laptop is open to Reddit, and I have often done some of my best online shopping in those 90 minutes. However, finals are coming up, and I’m realizing how big of a mistake that was. If I had sat in the front, I would have felt more guilty about not paying attention. Closer proximity to the professor might have made me more inclined to answer questions as well. Next semester, I vow to sit closer to the front, and pay more attention (lets see how long this lasts!).

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Lecturing: A Dying Art

Anyone who has attended a university knows all about lectures. In fact, prior to attending Virginia Tech, I imagined all my classes as lecture halls. You know the type. Big room, rows upon rows of seats with little fold-out desks, a screen and podium front and center. Some classes here can fit almost 600 students in a room for a single period. Fortunately, most of my classes are in smaller, more intimate settings. All of my professors know my name, and several have helped me outside of the classroom. When I did have lecture-style classes, I went unnoticed.

Some students say lecturing is great, and they learn best when they are being spoken to. However, many of my peers that say this complain about not understanding anything. Who has the attention span to stay focused as a professor rambles on for over an hour? Lecture-style teaching made it easier for me to get distracted. Instead of paying attention, I found myself checking Facebook and reading forums on Reddit. This rarely happens in my smaller classes (honest!) because I’m actually involved in the lesson. Sure, I may look at Twitter for a few minutes or open up my email, but I still try to remain engaged in what the professor is teaching. I even feel guilty for getting distracted in my discussion-based classes. The professor is there, looking for our input. In a lecture, it seems like the professor could care less if you’re taking notes or not.

What’s a Professor to Do?

According to this article, it is impossible for students to take in all the information from a lecture. What’s more, lectures don’t allow students to think about the information they’re learning. Everyone is trying to get down the notes as quickly as possible, so that they will have something to study later come test time. Eric Mazur, a professor mentioned in the article, decided to change his style of teaching after noticing that students were unresponsive during question time in class. He started having the students discuss the questions with each other. This allowed the students who knew the answers to teach the others how they figured it out. Talking about it also helped the students put what they had just learned into action.

Personally, I find classes that allow open discussion much more interesting than those that don’t. Of course, there ought to be a limit on how long those conversations can take place (before everyone starts talking about their weekend).

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Paper, Please!

I recall reading a short story when I was around eight about a girl who lived in the future. She didn’t go to school, a “teacher” taught her everything she knew from a screen, and everything she read was written on a electronic tablet. Somehow, she stumbled upon paper books, which hadn’t been around in her time. The books ignited her curiosity in students of the past, and what their lives were like. Now, this story was probably part of some standardized test I had to take in the third grade, but I remember being so intrigued by the girl’s story. Would the future really be like that? Would books no longer exist?

According to this article from The New York Times, that fictional future might not be far off from the truth. With tablets and eBooks and Kindles, paper books seem like old-fashioned dust collectors. Why spend $20 on a book that you can download for $5 on your iPad? Even college students have begun downloading textbooks to their devices; by doing so, they can easily search for specific terms and highlight passages without physically damaging the text. Reading books on screens is cleaner, too! I think I became more familiar withe the boogers stuck to the pages of The Secret Garden than the actual story itself. Maybe it was a sign that I should have bought my own copy after checking it out over ten times from the library.

But what about the feel of a book? And the smell? Sure, maybe they have replicated the look of a paper page, but is it really the same? The article mentions that software developers have struggled with creating a successful platform that could ultimately replace books. People want the typical experience that comes with reading a paper book, but with added convenience. Is there a happy medium to be found?

For now, I will remain firm in my fight to keep paper books on the shelves and in our hands.

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Does Mindfulness Matter? (Revisited)

A while ago, I wrote a post on here about why “mindfulness matters.” Basically, we don’t really notice the issues with our tools until something better comes along. Over the past few months, I’ve tried to be more aware of what I use in my day-to-day activities and question my motives for using them. Like many others, I am pretty set in my ways. Whenever a new application or website comes out, I am a little reluctant to try it. This brings me into a project I recently did on a presentation application called Haiku Deck. Now, I’m not going to go into any specifics about Haiku Deck. You can view my website about it here. What I’m going to discuss is how examining this application made me mindful of the resources I use.

Why Choose Haiku Deck over PowerPoint?

You shouldn’t. I hated Haiku Deck, not because it was worse than PowerPoint, but because it wasn’t PowerPoint. I didn’t realize how wonderful PowerPoint was until I had to use something else. Everyone uses PowerPoint nowadays. Just a few weeks ago I answered an ad about a blogging internship (which I got!), and even they mentioned wanting someone who had experience with PowerPoint. It’s been proven to get the job done, and do it efficiently. And if there is an issue with an aspect of the application, they will generally fix it in the updated version.

We see the same thing with Microsoft Word. You don’t “love it or hate it,” you probably don’t even think about it when writing a document. Apparently there are people who have an issue with how distracting Microsoft Word is for them. But take a look at a document on Microsoft Word. Are you really that distracted by the toolbar?

A typical Word Document
A typical Word Document

Even after reading articles like this explaining why I should hate Microsoft Word too, I still use it. Why? Because it works. I can type up a document, easily format headings and page numbers, insert pictures, and show editing marks, all without an internet connection.

Mindfulness Matters (Sometimes)

While it’s true that you should be aware of the resources you are using to accomplish a task, I think we put too much weight on it. You can’t blame Microsoft Word for your inability to write a decent paper. I’m sure people who use rival applications have several complaints about them as well. If something is truly inhibiting your ability to work, then go ahead and try something different. In the mean time, I’m going to be typing out my memos with Microsoft.

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Are We Really Multitaskers?

Women are better than men at multitasking.

Multitasking slows your brain down. 

Sound familiar?  We have all multitasked before. I’m doing it now as I write this post while simultaneously attempting to eat a quick lunch. There are many facts about multitasking floating around the internet, as well as tips and tricks “guaranteed” to make your brain better at it. However, some argue that we aren’t actually multitasking at all; we are context-switching. According to an article posted on buffer, it is impossible for our brain to truly multitask. Instead, it switches back and forth from different tasks. So, while you may think you are efficiently completing more than one thing, you’re actually focusing on each individual action. The brain creates “spotlights” where it splits the multiple tasks up and rapidly switches between them.

Diagram of “spotlights” Courtesy of blog.bufferapp.com

Stop Multitasking and Start “Singletasking”

Studies have found that those who multitask actually perform worse than those who don’t. They cannot filter information as quickly, and have a more difficult time picking out what is important. Buffer suggests that we stop trying to multitask and turn our attention to one thing. These following tips from Buffer may help you achieve a more singular way of thinking.

  1. Do your work in a single browser tab
  2. Write a to-do list, and walk through getting things done
  3. Change your work location at least 3 times a day

There you have it. Silence your cellphones and log out of Facebook when you’re trying to focus on something important. Fortunately, Buffer says that listening to music does not count as multitasking, but clicking through your playlist does!

“Never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing”-Ron Swanson

 

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Old People Texting

A week ago, I asked my mom to read over something I had written. It was typed on my laptop in a simple Word document. Five minutes in, I hear her say, “I can’t scroll down! It’s not letting me!” She didn’t know how to work the touch pad. In her defense, she never uses laptops. However, she uses her smartphone everyday to complete various tasks. It’s not that using technology is too difficult for her, she just doesn’t have a need for all of it.

Google “Working with Generation Y.” Articles upon articles (mostly about Tim Elmore’s book of the same title) will appear, advising baby boomers on ways to deal with millennials. Most of this advice is about generalizations; young kids all want work to be fun, to be paid a lot immediately, have flexible hours, etc. All of these articles mentioned that Generation Y was raised with parents who provided everything and will continue to hand over money in the the blink of an eye.  I found it all to be a bit ridiculous. Who wouldn’t want to have a job with meaningful duties, decent pay, and flexible hours?

After reading quite a few of these blogs and online papers, I found a similar theme: Generation Y and technology. Many of the baby boomers reported feeling scared about losing their jobs to younger employees who have more experience with technology. Generation Y consists of those who were born between the early 80s and middle 90s. They’re often referred to as “Digital Natives.” Companies are hiring fresh new faces who can work with social media and new forms of technology. Everyday we see new software and hardware being developed, and it can be difficult to keep up. This may seem threatening to Generation X and the Baby Boomers, but according to a study done by the Georgia Institute of Technology and the International Telecommunication Union, there is hardly a generational gap at all concerning technology in developed countries. People who can afford to have smartphones and computers will have them, and learn to use them. Many of those in Generation X were involved with developing computers and cell phones and still have the knowledge and wisdom to be relevant today.

Sure, us “Digital Natives” can upload a picture to Instagram or Tweet about our trip to Starbucks, but how many of us are going to be creating the next iPhone?

 

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Social Media and News

As many of you know, the Philippines has recently been struck by a devastating typhoon. Here at school, I had no idea this had happened until I started seeing tweets about it. The day after it happened, I noticed a stagnant ad at the top of my Facebook news feed, asking me if I would like to donate $10 to relief funds. Even today, as I browsed Reddit, I noticed several pages posting links allowing users to donate with a few simple clicks. When I’m living at home, I watch the news on TV almost every night. However, when I’m at school, I never watch TV. Everything I hear about comes from some form of social media. This graph below, done by The Pew Research Center (PRC), shows just how many adults get their news from various websites and applications.

Their findings also reinforced the fact that social media is often faster at providing information, when compared to the local news channels. Social media is accessible virtually anywhere as long as a smart phone is present. According to the graph below, done by the PRC, Facebook leads in the amount of news people get from social media.

So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t faster access to information be a good thing? The answer is yes, the answer to correct information should be readily available. Unfortunately, we live in a culture of people competing to get the story first. Now, this has happened with news stations before, with the wrong photo of the Newton Shooting suspect being released. However, this happens even more often through social media. Reddit was recently under fire for falsely accusing a man for partaking in the Boston Marathon Bombings. Tweets exaggerating the death toll of the Navy Yard Shooting were flying around just hours after the event occurred.

As we continue to develop new ways of giving and receiving information, we need to keep some things in mind. How reliable is your news source? Is it a trusted news website, or your annoying aunt on Twitter? As the death toll rises in the Philippines, be aware of false charity scams floating around online.

Want to help? 

Check out NBC’s World News website, which has provided several links to trusted charities and organizations.

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