Category Archives: Technology

Differences in being distracted: who gets most distracted by cell phones?

What’s more annoying than cell phones during a concert? People filming can be a burden, but nothing worse than a ringtone during a silent piece of music. Researchers now have verified that the mere presence of a cell phone or smartphone can adversely affect our cognitive performance, particularly among infrequent internet users and again it has input for mobile devices in education…

From the press release:

As a part of their research, Associate Professor Jun-ichiro Kawahara of Hokkaido University’s Graduate School of Letters and Motohiro Ito of Chukyo University (a special research student at Hokkaido University’ Graduate School of Letters) measured the effect of mobile phones on the ability to pay attention of 40 undergraduate students.

The participants were split into two groups: a “mobile-phone conditions” group and a “control conditions” group. For the former, the researchers placed a mobile phone (that did not belong to the participant being tested) next to a computer monitor, asked the participant to search for a target character amongst other characters that appeared on the monitor screen, and then measured the time it took to search for the target character. For the latter group, a memo pad of the same size as the phone was placed by the monitor, and the same experiment was conducted. Thereafter, participants were asked about how frequently they use and how attached they are to the internet.

According to the experiment’s results, “mobile-phone conditions” participants took longer to find the target character than the control group, indicating that participants were automatically distracted by the presence of the phone, impairing cognitive performance. This effect was more pronounced in people who infrequently use the internet. On the other hand, it was found that heavy users were not distracted by the phone and rather more efficient to notice the target when it appeared on the side of the monitor where the mobile phone was placed. These results suggest that the influence of a mobile phone on the examinee’s cognitive performance differed depending on the degree of their internet usage.

The researchers hypothesize that people are automatically drawn to the presence of a mobile phone, and there are individual differences in how one attempts to ignore it. In conclusion, Kawahara notes “The mere presence of a mobile phone was a distraction among infrequent internet users. However, among frequent internet users, the device might have served as a spatial cue from which their visual system starts searching the target.”

Abstract of the study:

Recent studies suggest that the “mere presence” of a mobile phone impairs social interactions and neuropsychological test performance. The present study examined whether the presence of a mobile phone causes spatial bias toward the device during a visual search task. Participants identified a target among spatially distributed non-targets. We manipulated three factors: device presence (mobile phone or notepad), target congruency (congruent or incongruent), and attentional load (set size 8 or 24). A mobile phone (or a notepad in the control condition) was placed on the left side of the computer screen. Participants also completed a questionnaire to measure Internet usage and attachment. Participants with high scores on the questionnaire rapidly identified the target at the congruent (same side as the phone) location, but the mere presence effect did not occur in this condition. In contrast, participants with low scores on the questionnaire demonstrated the mere presence effect, but no spatial bias was observed. These results suggest that the mere presence effect can be modulated by individual differences in the degree to which a device is appealing.


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Funny on Sunday: Why Can’t You Use Phones on Planes

It’s an oldie but goodie I saw on Facebook last week:

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A review of 1 on 1 laptops in education shows… that much more and better research is needed

At first when I read this new study by Binbin Zheng, Mark Warschauer Chin-Hsi Lin, Chi Chang, I thought based on the abstract that there was finally great news for EdTech in education:

Over the past decade, the number of one-to-one laptop programs in schools has steadily increased. Despite the growth of such programs, there is little consensus about whether they contribute to improved educational outcomes. This article reviews 65 journal articles and 31 doctoral dissertations published from January 2001 to May 2015 to examine the effect of one-to-one laptop programs on teaching and learning in K–12 schools. A meta-analysis of 10 studies examines the impact of laptop programs on students’ academic achievement, finding significantly positive average effect sizes in English, writing, mathematics, and science. In addition, the article summarizes the impact of laptop programs on more general teaching and learning processes and perceptions as reported in these studies, again noting generally positive findings.

But hold your horses, when you start reading the actual article there is sadly enough much less reason to be happy, imho. Check this conclusion, bold by me:

Contrary to Cuban’s (2003) argument that computers are “oversold and underused” (p. 179) in schools, laptop environments are reshaping many aspects of education in K–12 schools. The most common changes noted in the reviewed studies include significantly increased academic achievement in science, writing, math, and English; increased technology use for varied learning purposes; more student-centered, individualized, and project-based instruction; enhanced engagement and enthusiasm among students; and improved teacher–student and home–school relationships. Contrary to Mayer’s argument that educational technology is a neutral tool indifferent to its use (Veronikas & Shaughnessy, 2005), laptop computers have specific affordances that make certain uses and outcomes likely, such as the ease with which they can be used for drafting, revising, and sharing writing, and for personal access of information.

Though our analysis corroborates and extends many of the positive conclusions from earlier syntheses of one-to-one computing, it is far from the last word on this topic, in part because a disproportionate amount of the research to date on this topic consists of small case studies in one or a handful of schools. The number of studies identified that deployed rigorous experimental or quasi-experimental methods was small, making meta-analysis difficult, and making it impossible for us to conduct moderator analyses. In addition, studies on this topic have largely done a poor job of assessing learning outcomes that are not well-captured by current iterations of standardized tests. As the United States and other countries move to more sophisticated forms of standardized assessment, these new measures may be better aligned with the learning goals believed to be associated with laptop use.

The falling price of hardware, software, and wireless access; the increasing digital literacy of teachers, students, and parents; the growing sophistication of educational technology applications; and the rising need for computers to be used in student assessment all suggest that one-to-one laptop programs are going to continue to expand in K–12 schools. This, in turn, should encourage larger, better-funded, and longer studies that can more systematically identify what works, what does not, for what purposes, and for whom in the one-to-one laptop classroom.

Actually I think that the second paragraph makes the first one way too strong. So I do think that the debate between Kozma and Clark hasn’t been decided yet. In itself, this review study is an interesting read also when discussing e.g. inequality.


Filed under Education, Research, Review, Technology

Despite popular claims: little experimental evidence for influence of the internet on teenage brains (review)

There are two popular – but opposing – ideas about the internet and young people: Internet makes them more stupid versus Internet empowers them and we should look at the kids to now our future.

Kathryn Mills made a review of the existing evidence and concludes:

  • Adults are concerned about the effects of new technologies on the developing brain.

  • Different aspects of Internet use have different effects on adolescent health.

  • Neuroimaging research on this topic has focused on nonrepresentative samples.

  • There is currently no evidence that typical Internet use harms the adolescent brain.

And there are also some interesting facts in her article in Cell:

Although it is unclear how time spent specifically using the Internet relates to physical activity, a longitudinal study of 11–13-year-olds (n = 908) suggests that engaging in screen-based sedentary behaviors such as computer use is not associated with less engagement in leisure-time physical activities


At this time we cannot be sure whether Internet use is creating a generation with ‘fundamentally different cognitive skills’, although recent studies have begun to test the potential effects of widespread Internet use on the cognitive abilities of young adults.


Although there are neuroimaging studies that have investigated the effects of Internet use on the adolescent brain, these studies have focused on adolescents classified as excessive Internet users (see [11] for a review). The results of these studies are unlikely to apply to the majority (an estimated 95.6%; see [12]) of adolescents that do not qualify as excessive Internet users.


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Funny on Sunday: is that EDTech tool pedagogically valid?

What a great way to start the year with some sound advice! (H/T @Bramfaems)

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Good question answered: despite technology, why are there still so many jobs? (TED-talk by D. Autor)

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A study about augmented reality and learning

Augmented and virtual reality is hot, also in people thinking about education. But what is the effect of augmented reality on learning? Good question, and this – rather smal – study shows it maybe can. But caution is warranted if you look at this overview:

0 Month 1 Month 1 Month + 1 Week
Motivation (Deci & Ryan) Situation motivation
Knowledge test Knowledge test
School learning context Science centre learning context
Background variables: school achievement, gender

This means that the study doesn’t say anything about lasting effect of often using augmented reality in education, as motivation seems to be a possible explanation. Motivation can also originate from doing something new…

From the press release:

The aim of this research project was to analyse learning using Augmented Reality (AR) technology and the motivational and cognitive aspects related to it in an informal learning context. The 146 participants were 12-year old Finnish pupils visiting a science centre exhibition.

The results showed that AR-technology experience was beneficial especially for the pupils, who otherwise belong to the lowest achieving school success group. They were reaching up the gap with other students while learning science. On the other hand, the students with the high-performance school success gained more challenge and quality for the learning outcomes.

Augmented Reality (AR) differs from Virtual reality (VR): VR is totally virtual and illusion, but AR creates mixed reality by adding visual elements into real, physical environment around us. This research group from the University of Helsinki has been doing research related to informal learning and Augmented Reality for more than a decade now. Now, only after the Pokémon phenomenon this AR-technolgoy has become known by wider audiences. However, many experts don’t consider the Pokémon technology as AR-solution, but as the recent Scientific American calls it as “location-based entertainment”.

“Utilizing ICT- and digitalization in education is much hype. The majority of the comments are based on everyday knowledge and anecdotes. The number of evidence-based education research reports is astonishingly small,” says Professor Hannu Salmi from the University of Helsinki, Finland.

“Several ICT-based educational materials are old-fashioned. The text-books have only been converted into digital form. However, by the latest technologies like AR allow to create totally new type of learning solutions and not only to transport old knowledge into a new format. Our team has been developing clearly defined phenomena like the molecule movement in the gases, gravity, sound waves, or aeroplane wing physics. This is not only for learning the knowledge based facts, but learning by doing to make the observations is developing the thinking skills – learning to learn, as well.”

“Video games and computer based entertainment and serious pc-educational games have traditionally been more beneficial for the boys. However, in this AR-case there was no gap between boys and girls in post-knowledge testing; thus the girls benefitted more from the informal learning experience than the boys,” says Helena Thuneberg, the senior researcher from the University of Helsinki. “Girls had a higher relative autonomy experience (RAI) as an important background factor for high-performance learning. Meanwhile, situation motivation was much more strongly inter-connected among the boys.”

AR seems to be also a good tool for different learners. It is bridging the gap between formal education and informal learning in an effective way.

The research was conducted by the University of Helsinki science centre pedagogy group and the results have been recently published in the Journal of Science Education.

Abstract of the study:

The aim of the study was to analyse learning using Augmented Reality (AR) technology and the motivational and cognitive aspects related to it in an informal learning context. The 146 participants were 11- to 13-year-old Finnish pupils visiting a science centre exhibition. The data, which consisted of both cognitive tasks and self-report questionnaires, were collected using a pre- post-test design and were analysed by SEM path-analysis. The results showed that AR-technology experience was beneficial for all, but especially for the lowest-achieving group and for the girls. In general, pre-knowledge skills predicted post-knowledge test results. As expected, school achievement had an effect on pre-knowledge results. In addition, motivation turned out to be an alternative key route for learning. Being a boy predicted directly or indirectly all other motivational variables, enjoyment and interest, but girls had a higher relative autonomy experience (RAI). Situation motivation and attitude towards learning in the science exhibition were much more strongly inter-connected among boys than girls, and attitude predicted post-knowledge only for boys. AR seems to be a promising method by which to learn abstract phenomena using a concrete manner.


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Barack Obama explains why #solutionism doesn’t work

I shared this already on Twitter, but I think this short text by president Barack Obama is so important that it would be a mistake not to share it here.

Read this and than think about Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, and many others.


Filed under At work, Education, Review, Technology

Funny on Sunday: what is Grand Theft Auto like in Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality is great, but maybe some games can become a bit too real…

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How a selfie can make you feel happier (study)

To many people selfies are sign of the present narcissism. And pictures like this don’t help it:

But this new study does give some consolation: regularly snapping selfies with your smartphone and sharing photos with your friends can help make you a happier person.

Wait, this is the opposite of the idea that social media can make you more depressed? Well, we already saw it is a bit more complicated than that. This new study is quite interesting and has both a lot of data and a very limited amount of people involved. The latter is the weakest element of this study, imho.

From the press release:

By conducting exercises via smartphone photo technology and gauging users’ psychological and emotional states, the researchers found that the daily taking and sharing of certain types of images can positively affect people. The results of the study out of UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences were published recently in the Psychology of Well-Being.

“Our research showed that practicing exercises that can promote happiness via smartphone picture taking and sharing can lead to increased positive feelings for those who engage in it,” said lead author Yu Chen, a postdoctoral scholar in UCI’s Department of Informatics. “This is particularly useful information for returning college students to be aware of, since they face many sources of pressure.”

These stressors — financial difficulties, being away from home for the first time, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and the rigors of coursework — can negatively impact students’ academic performance and lead to depression.

“The good news is that despite their susceptibility to strain, most college students constantly carry around a mobile device, which can be used for stress relief,” Chen said. “Added to that are many applications and social media tools that make it easy to produce and send images.”

The goal of the study, she said, was to help researchers understand the effects of photo taking on well-being in three areas: self-perception, in which people manipulated positive facial expressions; self-efficacy, in which they did things to make themselves happy; and pro-social, in which people did things to make others happy.

Chen and her colleagues designed and conducted a four-week study involving 41 college students. The subjects — 28 female and 13 male — were instructed to continue their normal day-to-day activities (going to class, doing schoolwork, meeting with friends, etc.) while taking part in the research.

But first each was invited to the informatics lab for an informal interview and to fill out a general questionnaire and consent form. The scientists helped students load a survey app onto their phones to document their moods during the first “control” week of the study. Participants used a different app to take photos and record their emotional states over the following three-week “intervention” phase.

Subjects reported their moods three times a day using the smartphone apps. In evening surveys, they were asked to provide details of any significant events that may have affected their emotions during the course of the day.

The project involved three types of photos to help the researchers determine how smiling, reflecting and giving to others might impact users’ moods. The first was a selfie, to be taken daily while smiling. The second was an image of something that made the photo taker happy. The third was a picture of something the photographer believed would bring happiness to another person (which was then sent to that person). Participants were randomly assigned to take photos of one type.

Researchers collected nearly 2,900 mood measurements during the study and found that subjects in all three groups experienced increased positive moods. Some participants in the selfie group reported becoming more confident and comfortable with their smiling photos over time. The students taking photos of objects that made them happy became more reflective and appreciative. And those who took photos to make others happy became calmer and said that the connection to their friends and family helped relieve stress.

“You see a lot of reports in the media about the negative impacts of technology use, and we look very carefully at these issues here at UCI,” said senior author Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics. “But there have been expanded efforts over the past decade to study what’s become known as ‘positive computing,’ and I think this study shows that sometimes our gadgets can offer benefits to users.”

Abstract of the study:

With the increasing quality of smartphone cameras, taking photos has become ubiquitous. This paper investigates how smartphone photography can be leveraged to help individuals increase their positive affect.

Applying findings from positive psychology, we designed and conducted a 4-week study with 41 participants. Participants were instructed to take one photo every day in one of the following three conditions: a selfie photo with a smiling expression, a photo of something that would make oneself happy and a photo of something that would make another person happy.

After 3 weeks, participants’ positive affect in all conditions increased. Those who took photos to make others happy became much less aroused. Qualitative results showed that those in the selfie group observed changes in their smile over time; the group taking photos to improve their own affect became more reflective and those taking photos for others found that connecting with family members and friends helped to relieve stress.

The findings can offer insights for designers to create systems that enhance emotional well-being.



Filed under Media literacy, Research, Social Media, Technology, Youngsters