Jesse Fox

Communication, singular

An open letter to my undergraduate students

Dear Undergrads,

Another school year is upon us, and I wanted to share some thoughts with you.

See, the thing about professors: every single one of us was once in your shoes. We took classes. We had good professors; we had bad professors. Some of us were ideal students; some of us were not. In the long run, though, we hacked the system, we graduated, and we fell in love. At some point, this mad love drove us to give up five or six or ten more years of our lives to MOAR SCHOOL. And that is why we are here, and why we get to call ourselves Dr. when we’re trying to score a reservation.

Perhaps you don’t know what professors do or why we are here. Perhaps you saw a movie once where professors smoke pipes and stare out windows all day, or you bought into some half-wit politician’s laughable claims that professors don’t work very hard. HA HA HA. Here’s a professor joke for you. Q: What do you call a 50-hour work week? A: Vacation!

Well, then, why are we in this job? It ain’t for the paycheck. Most of us are motivated by a deep and eternal love of learning. For some, that joy is learning through the research we conduct. For others, it’s helping others learn through the classes we teach and the students we mentor. For the lucky ones like me, both of these things are incredibly gratifying.

To put it in the most trite manner possible, every course is a journey we are embarking on together. I work incredibly hard to plan our route, accommodate any number of bumps in the road, acclimate or re-route around unforeseen obstacles–all the while making sure I’ve packed enough spare axles and trying to ward off dysentery. While I am juggling all these things (and deciding whether to caulk the wagon or ford the river), I want to share my expectations of you.

I want you to want to be here. I do. If you see this class as just another checkmark on your college requirements list, I am not the professor for you. Your enthusiasm may not be turned up to 11 all the time as mine often is, but I want you at least at a 6.

I want you to go beyond book learning to experience and integrate the material. My exams won’t allow you to just robotically recite definitions. My assignments aren’t intended for you to cut and paste quotations from articles together. I want you to think deeply about these topics and see how they apply to your lives and the inner workings of society. I want you to encode and apply this knowledge when a texting exchange leaves you upset, or a friend posts on social media seeking social support, or a video game leaves you ecstatic or angry or desperate for more. I want the name of a theory to pop in your head. I want you to drop the name of a concept in conversation that has your friend asking, “What’s that?” And then I want you to become a teacher as well and share that knowledge. Overall, I want you to learn the things that will help you be a more critical consumer, a happier person, a smarter worker, and a better citizen.

I want you to learn more than just the course material. College isn’t just about getting a diploma. Most high school learning is very rigidly structured. College is where you learn not just content, but the meta-skills that will help you succeed—or fail—in life. People who don’t go to college often learn these lessons far sooner than you will: how to budget your time (and money), how to prioritize your obligations, how to balance your work and your relationships, or how to communicate and build relationships successfully in work environments. This is what adulthood looks like. Your boss isn’t going to be okay if you miss work because, hey, it’s just too early in the morning to get out of bed, amirite? You’re not going to keep your job by telling your colleagues you were, like, reeeeeaaallly busy and didn’t get your work done on time. And you’re not going to earn anyone’s admiration or respect by staring at your mobile phone or other device when someone is trying to speak with you. Hence the rules in my classes: you are expected to behave in a professional, mature, and respectful manner, and electing not to do so has consequences.

I want you to work hard. I will hold you to higher standards than you may be accustomed to, because I find that students are often capable of more than they think they are. I want you to challenge yourself to continuously improve your performance and learn more, not attempt to skate by on minimal effort. If you’re looking for an easy course, this is not the droid you’re looking for.

I want you to teach me things, too. I love it when you bring up news I haven’t seen, share experiences relevant to what we’re learning, or send me a link to a great site or video. I am an insanely busy person and tech evolves at a rate no one person can ever keep up with. I also appreciate constructive feedback. Teaching tech also means the material is always changing, and I am always looking for ways to improve the next iteration of the course.

I want you to be successful, and I want you to share your successes. Seriously, the best part about teaching is hearing from students and learning what awesome things they’ve gone on to achieve. Do great things and keep in touch.

As for now: it’s time to pack the wagon.

Relational maintenance on TV

I have several graduate students doing exciting work with relational maintenance, including Courtney Anderegg. In my Media & Relationships class, I mentioned in passing that I’d never seen a content analysis about romantic relationship maintenance behaviors on television, and before I knew it, Courtney was in my office with a plan. Graduate student Katie Dale joined us, and then a casual question became a research project.

What comes to mind when you think about romantic relationships on the television shows you watch? (I just caught up with the last season of Game of Thrones, so I’m going to pass on answering this one myself.) Perhaps you’re used to seeing the back-and-forth insult-ridden banter between couples, punctuated by canned laughter, on sitcoms. Or, maybe you’re more accustomed to the overwrought, constantly troubled relationships on dramas. Or, perhaps you prefer the grotesque portrayals of romance on reality shows. Regardless, research had yet to explore how these romantic relationships are sustained in these shows.

In the content analysis, we composed a sample week of prime time network television. (Dr. Dana Mastro was infinitely helpful during this process.) We then coded speaking turns using Stafford’s (2011) Relational Maintenance Behavior Measure, which includes positivity (being positive toward your partner), assurances (being there for your partner now and in the future), self-disclosure (sharing information about yourself with your partner), understanding (sympathizing with your partner and apologizing when appropriate), networks (involving friends and family),  relationship talks (discussing the state of the relationship), and tasks (performing activities like household chores).

All types of relational maintenance were present on prime time television. Although most relationship maintenance studies found equal distribution of behaviors, however, we found those portrayed on television to be skewed. Networks were particularly popular, whereas assurances were very rare.

We also observed differences across genres. Comedies revealed a greater number of maintenance behaviors than dramas, but they also revealed a greater number of negative maintenance behaviors (e.g., showing a lack of understanding, withholding information from one’s partner). Given that bad behavior is often reinforced in comedies both on screen (e.g., because the show is humorous, serious consequences are rare and forgiveness is always provided) and in the viewing experience (via laughter from laugh track or studio audience), comedies may be modeling unhelpful behaviors for romantic partners.

Very exciting to do some exploratory work on relational maintenance and media. We will be continuing this work in different contexts in future projects. Email if you can’t access the paper from the like below and would like a copy.

Anderegg, C., Dale, K., & Fox, J. (2014). Media portrayals of romantic relationship maintenance: A content analysis of relational maintenance behaviors on prime time television. Mass Communication & Society, 17, 733-753. doi:10.1080/15205436.2013.846383

Discussing implications for online dating

I talked with Hayley Matthews at DatingAdvice.com about the implications of some of my recent research for online dating. Great article! Check it out here.

Selfies, narcissism, & “psychos”: Setting the record straight

James Franco selfie psychoA recent study on selfies I published with my awesome Ph.D. advisee, Margaret Rooney, was picked up widely in the mainstream media this past week. Not unexpectedly, there was cheeky but accurate news coverage (e.g., CNN, Health,and I liked this video from the Chicago Tribune), appropriately measured coverage (e.g., Jezebel, a fellow blogger at Psychology Today), and awful, panic-stricken, inaccurate drivel accompanying splashy clickbait titles (too many tabloids and blogs to name). (Update: I’m also ecstatic to report it made The Onion.) I’m a bit behind the ball here but, in the name of good science and accuracy, I wanted to provide some answers and clarifications.

The short summary: we used data from an online survey of 800 nationally representative U.S. men aged 18 to 40. The survey asked them about social media behaviors and personality traits among some other items. We were interested in the relationship between some traits (the Dark Triad and self-objectification) and social media behaviors. We found:

  1. Self-objectification and narcissism predicted the amount of time men spend on social networking sites.
  1. Narcissism and psychopathy predicted the number of selfies men post on social networking sites.
  1. Narcissism and self-objectification predicted men’s editing of photos posted to social networking sites.

Here are some commonly asked questions as well as some clarifications about the study.

What is The Dark Triad, anyway? Sounds like a goth band.

These are what we refer to as antisocial personality traits. On the whole, these traits are associated with some pretty nasty behavior. Those high on the Dark Triad are manipulative, callous toward others, and often use deceit to get what they want. They focus on achieving their own goals, even when those are at the expense of other people.

Antisocial traits? But they’re using social media. Isn’t that social?

“Antisocial” doesn’t mean necessarily mean unwilling to associate with others; here it means these traits aren’t prosocial or beneficial for society. Dark Triad individuals are usually pretty adept at getting what their social needs fulfilled, but this is without regard for others. Social networking sites might help them meet those goals. Laura Buffardi and W. Keith Campbell published one of the first pieces on narcissism on social media in 2008, and several others have followed up with similar investigations. I would also recommend Dr. Chris Carpenter’s (2012) study, which identified specific behaviors narcissists exhibit on Facebook; this study that linguistically analyzed Facebook posts for indicators of Dark Triad traits; and Peter Jonason’s fascinating work on Dark Triad traits and interpersonal behavior more generally (e.g., here and here).

So, you found that narcissism predicts selfies. Um, #duh?

Admittedly, I wasn’t as interested in narcissism as I was the Dark Triad trait of Machiavellianism, which is characterized by being manipulative and amoral. I’ve identified relationships between Machiavellianism and other social media behavior, but it didn’t predict men’s selfie behaviors.

So, why is this finding still important? Well, first, just because something seems like common sense or something is commonly accepted doesn’t mean it’s scientifically accurate. Remember the good ol’ days when bacon (hey, protein!) and smoking (so relaxing) were good for you? Scientists have to confirm even the obvious stuff because sometimes there’s more going on than we think (which was the case here when you think about the roles of psychopathy and self-objectification.)

Second, the narcissism finding is a bit more interesting than it seems on face. The common understanding of narcissists is that they are self-absorbed, egocentric, entitled, and think they’re better than everyone else. This is accurate, but there is another important aspect of narcissism: an underlying insecurity. The selfie finding is interesting to me because it implies that narcissistic individuals may post selfies to address this insecurity. As I discuss in this paper, many social networking sites allow people to get comments, “likes,” and other forms of social feedback, and narcissists in particular may rely on these features (or affordances, if you want the scientific term) to make them feel better about themselves.

He posted a selfie! OMG! Is the guy I’m dating a psychopath?

Deep breaths. In this study, we measured the subclinical (i.e., normal) range of these Dark Triad traits. Everyone has a little bit of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism in them. Yes, even you. We can’t draw conclusions from these data about clinical levels of psychopathy or what people would commonly describe as a “psychopath.” So, don’t believe the hype.

This isn’t to say subclinical psychopathy is a desirable trait, however. It is characterized by impulsivity and a lack of empathy for other people. People higher in psychopathy may post selfies online impulsively and without thinking. (It makes sense, too, that we didn’t see a relationship in between psychopathy and editing your selfies given this impulsivity.) Because people higher in psychopathy lack empathy, they might not care if you’re annoyed by all the selfies they post, either.

I told ’em! This generation! All them Facebooks and selfies are turnin’ those kids into narcissists!

This study was a survey, which means we can’t make any causal claims; experimental research is needed to answer those questions. Narcissism could cause selfies, or selfies could cause narcissism, or a third variable could be driving them both. We can only state that we observed a relationship between these things among a nationally representative sample of U.S. men aged 18 to 40.

Well, how many selfies can I post without looking like a total narcissist?

We only looked at selfie posting in this study. We don’t have enough research on how people perceive others’ selfies yet to answer this question. My common sense answer: if you have to stop and ask yourself if you’re posting too many selfies, you are probably posting too many selfies. My suggestion is to ask your close friends what they think about the frequency and content of your selfie posting–and don’t get defensive when they give you honest feedback.

Why did you only look at men, hater? Obviously it’s because you are female and out to get men.

Ah, the stupid, sexist things trolls say. Read the paper. Magically, the answer is there. The longer story:

Trust me, I would have loved to have a nationally representative sample of women as well, but I had no control over what went in the survey. Glamour magazine conducted the survey through a survey company. Most survey companies charge by chunks of time (e.g., 20 minutes) and you get to fill those minutes with questions. As a women’s magazine, of course they had more questions to ask the women, and they filled the women’s 20 minutes with other questions. (You can see the results in their November 2014 issue.) They had some time left over on the men’s side of the survey given they didn’t have to ask men about their thigh gaps and bikini bridges, and so they included the Dark Triad and self-objectification measures. Thus, no data on the Dark Triad or self-objectification for this particular sample of women.

Don’t fret, though. I already have data collected on women, and the results are coming soon. The problem is that a nationally representative sample is very expensive, so I collected data with a convenience sample of college women. This means the sample will be restricted in age, education, and race/ethnicity, unlike the men’s sample. So, we can’t be as confident that these data will represent U.S. women as a whole, but it’s a start in answering questions about women and selfies.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to add except an additional thanks to Liz Brody, Shaun Dreisbach, and Glamour for making this research possible, and to Jeff Grabmeier, Joe Camoriano, and OSU University Communications for helping with the media traffic. It’s an academic’s dream to work with so many great people in so many different research-related contexts.

The benefits of disconnecting

I have a new post up at Psychology Today outlining the benefits of disconnecting from devices and putting them out of sight (and out of mind). A growing body of research shows that the mere presence of phones is a distraction, interfering with conversations, relationship building, work performance, and creativity. Read my post here.

Human or computer? It matters if you’re trying to influence users

Currently, there are two general frames of thought in terms of interacting with computers. First is the media equation, conceived by Byron Reeves and Cliff Nass (1996), which later evolved into the computers as social actors (CASA) framework (see Nass & Moon, 2000). The media equation and CASA both suggest that we mindlessly process media and computer-based interactants. Evolutionarily, we’re not designed to cope with this thing that is COMPUTER or TELEVISION, so the argument is that we process those stimuli in the same way we would if they weren’t mediated. For example, a person on a television screen or a partner in text chat are both interpreted as we would any person. The media equation explains a vast array of phenomena, including why horror movies are scary or why we cuss out our laptops when they malfunction–because we respond to media in a very human-like way.

Another perspective on the matter, although conceived as being constrained to a certain context and domain, is Blascovich’s (2002) social influence model in virtual environments. Blascovich suggests that when an computer-mediated entity is believed to be controlled by a human, it is more influential than when it is believed to be controlled by a computer. The perception of human control or agency, then, is key to persuasion in virtual environments. Blascovich offers a second route, however, as he notes that behavioral realism is an important factor that interacts with our perception of agency. If we think we’re interacting with a human, the representation doesn’t necessarily have to be realistic. If we’re interacting with a computer, however, it needs to act realistic and human-like for us to be affected the same way. Blascovich’s model doesn’t really tackle mindless or mindful processing, but it does provide a contrasting expectation to CASA in terms of how we may respond to computer-mediated representations.

Really, these things come down to a type of Turing test. As more interactants (email spammers, robo-dialers, Twitter bots, NPCs, etc.) are controlled by algorithms, it becomes important that we study the conditions in which people are understanding and responding to these entities as humans, and when they are conceiving of them as computers, and what impact that has on communicative outcomes.

As virtual environment researchers, we wanted to test these contrasting predictions to see whether there were differences in how people respond to visual avatars (i.e., virtual representations controlled by humans) or agents (i.e., virtual representations controlled by computers). (Although you’ll note the conspicuous absence of CASA in the paper, as a reviewer insisted that it didn’t fit there…never mind that we discussed the project and our contrasting hypotheses with Cliff…*sigh*) So, we gathered every paper we could find on visual virtual representations that manipulated whether people thought they were interacting with a person or a computer. These included studies that examined differences in physiological responses, experiences such as presence, or persuasive outcomes (e.g., agreeing with a persuasive message delivered by the representation). One study, for example, measured whether people were more physiologically aroused when they believe they were playing a video game against a computer or a human. Another study measured whether people performed a difficult task better if they thought a human or a computer was watching them.

What we found is that on the whole, avatars elicit more influence than agents. These effects are more pronounced when using desktop environments and objective measures such as heart rate. We anticipate that immersive environments may wash out some effects of agency because of higher levels of realism. Another finding was that agency made more of a difference if people were co-participating in a task with the representation, whether that was cooperating or competing. Perhaps having an outcome contingent on the other’s performance made it more meaningful to have a person in that role than a computer. A final finding is that when both conditions were actually controlled by a human–as opposed to both being actually controlled by a computer–agency effects were greater. So, there is something to be said about perhaps a subconscious Turing test, wherein people can somehow tell when they are interacting with computers even though they don’t explicitly think about it.

What This Means for Research Design

Our findings have a lot of relevance to how we interact with computers and humans, but you can read more about that in the paper. What I want to draw attention to is the importance of these findings in terms of research, as they may extend to any number of technological domains. Tech scholars often run experiments where they are having participants text chat or interact in a VE with someone, or they have them playing a video game, and they are testing some sort of influential effect of this interaction. Our findings indicate it is imperative that you clarify who they are interacting with, even if it seems obvious. Second, it is important that they believe it. If you are not clarifying this, or if your participants aren’t buying into your manipulation, you are probably going to be stuck with weird variance in your data that you can’t explain.

The problem is that directly asking people what they thought isn’t the best approach. As Reeves and Nass note in the media equation, if you straight out ask someone if they are treating a computer like a human, they’ll look at you like you’re nuts–but that doesn’t mean they won’t treat the computer like a human. Further, if you ask someone if they thought they were interacting with a person or a computer, they might have never even thought they weren’t interacting with a person–but now that you’ve introduced them to this idea, they’d feel dumb admitting they didn’t know, so they’re going to say “computer.” Or, you’re going to get them reflecting on the task, and they will suddenly recognize that the mechanistic responses did seem an awful lot like a computer, so they will report “computer” although they didn’t recognize this at the time of the task. Thus, direct questions aren’t the greatest way to parse this out.

My advice is to use a funneling technique, preferably in a verbal debriefing. You might start by asking what they thought the study was about, and then, based on the design, ask relevant questions (e.g., ask about their feelings about their text chat partner, or ask if what they thought about the other player’s style of play.) One thing to note is the use of pronouns (“she was…” “he was…”) that indicates at least some acceptance of the interactant as human. Then, keep probing: “Do you think your partner/opponent/etc. was acting strange at any point, or did they do anything you wouldn’t normally expect?” This is a broad enough question that shouldn’t immediately point to the partner being a computer, but might get them thinking in that direction. If they don’t say anything about it being a computer, I’d say you can be pretty confident they bought the manipulation and believed they were interacting with a person. You can wrap up with more direct questions: “At any time, did you think you were interacting with a computer rather than a human?” The feedback you get will also be helpful in designing future studies or scripts to eliminate this variance.

You can check out the paper through the link below:

Fox, J., Ahn, S. J., Janssen, J. H., Yeykelis, L., Segovia, K. Y., & Bailenson, J. N. (in press). A meta-analysis quantifying the effects of avatars and agents on social influence. Human-Computer Interaction. doi: 10.1080/07370024.2014.921494

Why I don’t allow devices in my classes

What? You don’t allow laptops in your classroom?

No, I don’t.

But you’re a tech professor!

Exactly. Which means I understand what effective technology use entails.

I’ve had a no-device policy in my classes for about two years. After I realized that non-users were clearly distracted by users (watching their eyes drift towards others’ screens, which assuredly were not occupied by the compelling interface of Microsoft Word), I started to corral users in a certain area. But I got tired of a whole section of averted eyes that never so much as looked up when I posed a question to the class. I watched as responsive students tried to articulate answers to questions to the tune of others clickety clickety clacking away on keyboards—a din clearly not a result of dutiful transcription of their classmates’ contributions.

The proverbial straw actually manifested in another classroom. I went to observe a class–an interesting, relevant topic that was presented in an engaging fashion by a skilled an enthusiastic instructor. Multimedia clips, clever slide images, questions posed to the  I sat in the back and watched as 75% of students (I counted) multitasked. Those on laptops surfed Facebook, shopped online, read celebrity blogs, and watched sports clips on YouTube. Others texted compulsively throughout the lecture, not putting their phones down until a new slide appeared.

In the meantime, the instructor’s questions dangled midair. The same two or three students jumped in to salvage the vain attempts at discussion, to resolve the awkward silences peppered with a persistent clickity clickity clack.

Not okay.

So, I banned devices outside of specific classroom activities, and the first day of class I tell my students why. Students multitask on devices (Ragan, Jennings, Massey, & Doolittle, 2014, found 2/3 of time on laptops was spent on nonclass activities). We have known (for a while now, actually) that classroom multitasking is bad and can lead to diminished learning and academic performance (Fried, 2008; Hembrooke & Gay, 2003; Junco, 2012; Kuznekoff & Titsworth, 2013; Ravizza, Hambrick, & Fenn, 2014; Sana, Weston, & Cepeda, 2013; Wei, Wang, & Fass, 2014; Wood, Zivcakova, Gentile, Archer, de Pasquale, & Nosko, 2012). And of course there is evidence that taking notes by hand is better than using a computer (Aguilar-Roca, Williams, & O’Dowd, 2012; Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014; Wood, Zivcakova, Gentile, Archer, de Pasquale, & Nosko, 2012). Importantly, devices are also distracting not just to users, but to the students sitting near users (Fried, 2008; Sana, Weston, & Cepeda, 2013).

But it’s more than that for me. Here are my reasons for keeping my classroom device-free:

1. Fostering a respectful environment for dialogue. I never hesitate to tell a friend to put the phone away when we’re at dinner or ask a colleague if we need to meet at another time because they are preoccupied with their device. As an academic, there is so little time for socializing that any human interaction is valuable, so I expect and want their attention.

I also see a classroom as a place for important dialogue. To participate in the conversation, you need to be attentive. Further, to have a cohesive discussion, students need to listen not just to the instructor, but to each other. Research shows that the mere presence of devices can tarnish social interactions (Przybylski & Weinstein, 2013). I want students to feel free to communicate in an environment where they will be listened to and respected, not just by me, but by their peers.

My classes are not so rigidly structured as to have lecture time vs. discussion time, so I don’t permit devices throughout. I wouldn’t allow them only for the lecture portion anyhow  (a compromise many endorse), because even when classes are structured that way, attention during lecture is often necessary for students to make meaningful and informed contributions to the discussion or subsequent in-class activities.

2. Meta-lessons about our relationship with technology. I tell my students if they can’t stay off their phones for an hour or two during class, then they need to seek counseling. I am not being flippant; rather, this behavior is indicative of problematic use.

Further, some students are unaware of the nonverbal messages they send by clinging to devices. (I have an excellent in class activity for this, by the way.) In environments where phone use is considered inappropriate, this lack of self-control will be interpreted as disrespectful and inappropriate by others, and it is likely they will be judged as ignorant, immature, or just plain rude. Who wants to work with, or hire, or befriend, or date someone who can’t put their phone down and listen? The classroom is an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness and to also train oneself to have a more healthful relationship with their devices in general. (See Alex Pang’s great book The Distraction Addiction and his blog on contemplative computing for more on mindful use of technology.)

3. Instructors have rights, too. There also seems to be some hesitance in addressing the other side of the equation. I find inappropriate tech use annoying and disrespectful to me and to other students, and thus it is disruptive to my teaching. I care about my job, and I care about doing it well, and I can’t do my job effectively when I’m distracted. I have the right to insist that students allow me to do my job without disruption.

4. Students don’t mind as much as you think they do. In fact, some of them want it. The other thing is that professors tend to generalize (dare I say stereotype) students. They assume that they are all tech addicts who can’t possibly survive without their machines. Yes, some students do have problematic relationships with their devices, but it’s insulting to suggest that they’re not smart enough to figure out how to manage without them. It’s also one-sided to think that students themselves don’t recognize the detrimental effects technology can have in the classroom and that they don’t appreciate a tech-free policy. Here are some comments, collected anonymously, from my final course evaluations, which students complete online. I’ll add that students are not asked to comment specifically on the policy; these are just from the open-ended portion.

“I’ve never had a teacher prohibit the use of technology in class, but I’m glad that she did because it forced me to come to class and actually pay attention and write out my notes.” (Class of 70)

“Dr. Fox created an excellent learning atmosphere and I highly appreciated the no electronics policy. It really helped me from getting distracted in the middle of class and others distracting me as well.” (Lecture class of 160)

“I really liked that she didn’t allow electronics to be in the classroom because it helped me focus better in class and for the exams.” (Lecture class of 160)

“I really like her no technology policy in the classroom. This helps the general learning environment.” (Lecture class of 160)

“I actually like her “No technology” policy because i am able to pay better attention.” (Lecture class of 160)

“I really enjoyed the in class environment [without laptops]. I have taken more notes and paid more attention in this class than any other class that I have taken.” (class of 40)

I do field comments from a handful (I’d say 5 or 6 out of 300+) of students who say they would prefer taking notes on a laptop, but they have never been resentful (and most mention that they understand why the policy exists.) They are also far outnumbered by the students who are thankful for the policy.

“Not being able to follow along on my iPad was a little difficult but I understand her reasoning.” (Class of 160)

“While I disagree with her “no computer” policy because she feels it’s a distraction, I respect it.” (Class of 40)

Different instructors have different approaches and of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion and practices. (Just please don’t be that person who argues that your students are so devoted to your class that they would never, ever multitask improperly on their devices. They do. All the time.) I do, however, encourage instructors to take the time to think about whether you have accepted devices on face without truly evaluating their contribution to your classroom environment, or have tolerated them only because you fear student backlash. Consider: Is this a good practice for your class? Is it enriching the experience in your class, or is it creating more distractions? Is it helping foster a constructive learning environment for your students? And is it making your experience as an instructor more or less enjoyable? Those answers will help decide what’s best for you, your students, and your classroom.

Other readings on the matter:

Why a Leading Professor of New Media Just Banned Technology in Class from Clay Shirky @ The Washington Post

Why I’m Going Device Free (Sort of) in the Classroom from Katy Pearce (h/t to Katy for sharing the Ravizza et al. article above)

Best Practices for Laptops in the Classroom from Mark Sample @ The Chronicle (with links to related blogs)

Testing gamification: Effects of virtual leaderboards on women’s math performance

Leaderboard environment croppedGamification is one of those tech trends that exploded on the scene. TED talks, mass market books, love letters in esteemed publications, and all that jazz. But scientific evidence? Not so much. The problem with gamification is the huge gaping hole where empirical support should be. See, there’s not a lot of actual scientific research on the effects of gamification, and what’s there isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. (Check out the meta-analysis by Hamari, Koivisto, & Sarsa, 2014).

I’ve worked with a couple of grad students on some gamification-related projects, focusing specifically on the more popular applications of leaderboards and badges. Kate Christy and I were curious whether leaderboards may trigger stereotype threat or social comparison. We placed women in a virtual classroom, where they saw a leaderboard dominated by women’s names, a leaderboard dominated by men’s names, or no leaderboard. Stereotype threat would suggest women would perform worse after viewing the male-dominated board; social comparison approaches would suggest that women would perform worse after viewing the female-dominated boards. After viewing the board, they took a math quiz.

Our study revealed that women performed worse on the math quiz after seeing the female-dominated board compared to the male-dominated board. Yet, the female-dominated board promoted higher levels of academic identification than the male-dominated board or seeing no board at all. In terms of application, these findings are a little frustrating as they suggest female-dominated leaderboards are bad for performance, yet good for academic identification, and the opposite is true for male-dominated leaderboards. Clearly more research is needed than this to determine the effectiveness of leaderboards among different populations and in different contexts, but it does provide a cautionary note.

You can check out the full article for free here until September 30.

This isn’t to say gamification doesn’t hold promise; it is to suggest that dropping proven educational methods in the name of fun–without any evidence of its effectiveness–is a bad idea. It’s also to suggest that gamification is a really broad term, and some forms may be better than others. And just like any treatment or method–especially with educational outcomes hanging in the balance–scientific evidence should precede practice.

Why do people post offensive comments online?

Ferguson tweet 2Ferguson tweet 1

 

You know the feeling. You’re scrolling through your Twitter or Facebook feed and there it is: a post you read once, twice, three times, because you can’t believe that someone would post something like that. What is wrong with humanity?

As with any social scientific phenomenon, it’s a constellation of environmental factors (in this case, affordances specific to online communication), experience, and personality.

After a comparative reading of the #Fergusonshooting and #Fergusonriots hashtags on Twitter (yes, those are real tweets above), my coping mechanism was to write this piece for Psychology Today providing some explanations about why people post offensive crap online:

www.psychologytoday.com/blog/better-living-technology/201408/why-troll-why-why-people-make-offensive-comments-online

Making conference travel affordable: Tips & tricks

Traveling to conferences can be a continuing financial burden for academics. There’s also the added twist that often times, the locations people are most excited about are also the most expensive. ICA 2014 in London exceeded all expectations and was a great conference—but I also didn’t take the time to plan in advance and ended up spending way more money than I had budgeted for (even worse, most of it was on bad meals, also due to a lack of planning.) Here are a few tips for making work travel slightly less paralyzing for your checkbook (that may come in handy for last minute spring break planning too–who knows.)

Find friends. As soon as you know you’re going, sound the alarms for potential roommates and/or travel partners. This is the easiest way to cut down on hotel and travel expenses (especially if you can drive instead of fly) and, of course, it makes conferencing more fun. If you have friends in your destination city, see if they’re willing to put up with a houseguest for a couple of days.

Check your discounts. Sure, you get a conference hotel discount…but even then, conference hotels can be far outside of a normal travel budget. Few of us have the luxury of free hotel stays thanks to accumulated travel points, but sometimes there are benefits we forget about attached to other affiliations. Sometimes being a student is enough to get you a discount. I find my AAA card indispensable not only as a driver but also as a traveler, because many hotels and attractions (e.g., museums, historical sites) will give you an additional discount. I also belong to two social organizations that also get discounts on rental cars. Of course, always compare these prices with what you can find on bargain travel websites.

Do your research. Before you start digging, find out the basics about your destination by looking at travel sites. How far away is it from your school? Could you drive, or must you fly? What airports can you fly into? Is there a public transportation system? How is the public transit access from the airport to the hotel or from your hotel to the conference site? Are there affordable dining options around the hotel (and will they be open)? Don’t forget to check out the materials assembled by the sponsoring association–sometimes they have helpful hints there, such as leads on cheap transportation or staying in cheap campus housing for the conference.

Lodging. A little inconvenience can mean huge savings at conferences. It’s great to be able to take the elevator to talks and stay indoors when conferences are inexplicably scheduled in miserable climates, but you can often save hundreds of dollars outside of the conference hotel. For ICA in San Francisco several years ago, a colleague was able to book a room for us in a hotel less than a block away from the conference for over $100 cheaper a night, and it was just as nice as the conference hotel.

If you are staying for an extended period (e.g., for a preconference), you might search out non-hotel alternatives through airbnb.com, rentaflat.com, or other websites that lease out apartment-style living spaces. These sites usually get you access to a full kitchen, which means you can minimize your food budget by feeding on cereal, peanut butter, frozen burritos, and/or pasta.

If you are driving to the conference and have access to a car, this can free you up even more. If you’re in a suburban area, staying at a hotel closer to the highway will often net you the free parking, free breakfast, and free wifi that is a rare trifecta for conference hotels. Typically you can pay a small fee ($10 or less a day) to get a microwave and mini-fridge in your room, which can cut food costs considerably.

Transportation. At a recent ICA in Phoenix, I was amazed how many people didn’t realize that there was a train that ran from the airport to within a couple blocks from the hotel. I spent $4 round trip; I heard round trip taxi fare was about 10 times that. From what I’ve observed, this usually isn’t a secret: the conference organizations often advertise these options in newsletters and on the website. Take the time to skim the materials your associations lovingly assemble and pick up some travel pointers.

If you’re driving to your destination, don’t forget to factor in tolls and parking. I have stayed at highway hotels and used public transportation or driven to conference hotels; even when I have to pay $30 to park at the conference hotel as I did at NCA 2012 in Ughlando, though, my off-site lodging option was still considerably cheaper (especially when factoring in the other amenities like a full kitchen).

Food & drink. The easiest way to save money on food is to eat in your hotel room. When looking at your hotel options, check to see if they offer a free breakfast, mini-fridge, microwave, or coffeemaker. I eat constantly, so I typically pack food (given groceries are rarities near conference sites). Cereal is an easy breakfast and/or snack. Bagels are great for breakfast and can also host lunch with some peanut butter (they also travel better than crackers or bread.) Energy bars are convenient and don’t take up a lot of space. Add some apples, pears, or other sturdy fruits and you should make it through the week without starving or scurvy. If you have access to a grocery, you can expand your repertoire from hotel room grilled cheese and coffemaker ramen to frozen meals, depending on the presence of an iron, microwave, and/or mini-fridge in your room.

For a caff-fiend like me, a coffeemaker is indispensable for my conference productivity. Nothing gets my goat like having to fork over $4 in the conference hotel lobby for awful Starbucks. Over the course of 3-4 days, those little expenditures add up (not to mention the inevitable eons-long line in between morning panels.)

At the conference, ask around about the evening parties sponsored by schools. Some provide free food or drink tickets, but usually these only last for the early arrivals. If you stroll in fashionably late, you’ll only witness the scavenged remains of various crudité and feel a deep sense of disappointment.

As an eater (i.e., someone who likes to eat frequently and awesomely; please don’t confuse me for a foodie), my favorite part of conference travel is finding good noms. I consult several food sites (like roadfood.com, my life coach) in addition to destination guides to find feasible and affordable options. This research helped me track down a food truck gathering four blocks from ICA in Phoenix, a hole in the wall with decent $3 margaritas in San Francisco, and several spectacular food adventures in various back alleys at NCA New Orleans (including the Green Goddess, which was bizarre in all the right ways). When in doubt, ask a few locals or a hotel employee (not the front desk or concierge, however.) After several disappointing meals, I asked a bellhop in London where he liked to eat nearby, and he told us about a Thai restaurant that was hidden in the upstairs of a nearby pub. The food was amazing–far more delicious and affordable than anything else we found within walking distance of the hotel.

Entertainment. Occasionally you are lucky enough to have time to do something purely for fun. As mentioned before, some attractions will offer discounts for students or people with a college ID. There are also military discounts, senior discounts, and membership discounts (AAA) for places, so always ask. If you are plan on hitting up several attractions, you might see if there is a discounted pass, but be realistic about your availability. If you’re conferencing you may only have time to see one or two things, and separate admissions would be cheaper than a pass. You can also investigate the tours and offerings assembled by conference organizers, but I find that organizing on your own is usually cheaper.

As far as socializing goes, the hotel lobby bar is often a great place to run into people and strike up conversations, but it is also a notorious money vacuum. Beyond the school-hosted parties frequented by attendees, often there are interest group or graduate student organization happy hours at off-site locations. Take advantage of them. Often conference hotels are in downtown areas, and your bar and club options can be expensive. If you are looking for some nightlife, do a little online research and see if you can’t uncover a less expensive alternative.

Do math, and remember that time = money. Now that I’ve given you all these tips on how to conserve your funds, let me add one caveat. Saving money is important, but some things are also worth the extra money to save yourself time and frustration. If public transportation requires a shuttle to a train to a bus to a trolley with 30 minute layovers in between each stop, sometimes it’s worth it to fork over the extra money for a taxi. If you make this allowance, though, remember you’ll need to tighten the purse strings in another part of your budget.

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