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Use of social media in the classroom is affecting students’ attention spans

College students live in the age of the hashtag.

Checking Facebook at the touch of a finger can zone a boring lecture out in an instant.

Can’t find the answer in the textbook? No problem, just Google it.

While the common belief of social media is it is a distraction and enabler in schoolwork, professors at the University are learning how to use social media to their advantage.

Graduate student Jasmine Khosravi, who did her dissertation on generational differences, said students are only adapting to their environment.

“Advances in technology have affected the average person’s level of attention,” Khosravi said. “Compared to previous generations, we have so many more options, so many more stimuli around so we can choose what we want to attend.”

She said she does not see a problem with students “just Googling” answers.

“How do you find an answer without Googling it?” she said. “I’m from the millennial generation and I remember going to the library and learning the Dewey Decimal System and looking up the information in encyclopedias and now we have the convenience of looking it up on our phones.”

Because the environment students live in relies on technology, students have had to adapt accordingly, Khosravi said.

“To me, they are just using the resources available to them and in such a fast-paced world where you have to produce results quickly, it just makes sense that you would use the Internet,” she said.

Despite popular belief, Khosravi said finding answers online takes a level of skill.

“With so much information on the Internet, you don’t know what’s true and not true,” she said. “You have to develop some kind of skill to skip through the noise and find what you’re looking for.”

In addition to adapting to the technology itself, Khosravi said students have also adapted to the hedonistic lifestyle of today’s culture.

When students are in a class, they are going to listen to what brings them pleasure, she said. They have the option to look at their phone and there are several opportunities for distractions.

“We take advantage of [social media] because we like to feel good,” she said.

Food and nutrition instructor Carrie Hamady said she started using Twitter for her classes and has not seen it as a distraction, but as an aide.

In Fall 2013 Hamady said she did a Twitter chat in place of class time. The class tweeted during the class time using a hashtag to show they did the readings.

Hamady’s husband is the director of technology at Anthony Wayne Local Schools and she said that sparked the idea for the Twitter chat.

She said she wanted to show students how to use Twitter responsibly and professionally.

After the Twitter chat, she said she conducted a survey for her students and got data for a poster session at the annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Georgia last fall.

The data showed that students didn’t know how they could use Twitter professionally, but after using it in class they saw how they could use this in their professional lives, she said.

The poster, which she created with Mary-Jon Ludy, won first prize for innovations in teaching in dietetics at the expo.

Since winning at the expo, Hamady said she and Ludy have spoken at The CREATE conference, the Center for Faculty Excellence, given a webinar on-campus and in Columbus with a practice group of dieticians.

Connie Molnar, Director for the Center for Faculty Excellence, said the webinar received a lot of positive feedback.

“I think the webinar will create a lot of interest in the use of social media for both classroom use and for student professional development,” Molnar said.

Now, Hamady said she uses Twitter on a regular basis in her classes, which mainly consist of junior and seniors.

On the first day of class, she explains that she will follow them and they should follow her back.

While she said she still uses Canvas, she uses Twitter for quick bits of information, like what she would put on announcements.

For example, she said she might tweet out an article and have a discussion on it the next day of class.

“It’s a way for me to get better connected with my students,” she said. “So they know I’m not just teaching a class, but I’m also invested in their professional future.”

A lot of people are afraid that students will post inappropriate things, Hamady said.

However, she said she implements expectation management, which she has helped them remain professional.

“When I present it to the students in a certain way and they see the relevance of it in a certain manner, they all come to appreciate it.”

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