IM distracted

Levine, L., Waite, B., & Bowman, L. (2007). Electronic Media Use, Reading, and Academic Distractibility in College Youth. CyberPsychology & Behavior 10(4). pp. 560-566.

While this article supports the popular notion that instant messaging interferes with academic tasks such as reading textbooks, the flawed design call the results into question. The authors equate statements such as, “I rarely do the assigned readings for my classes” with being distracted from academic tasks. In fact, failing to do the assigned readings could be attributed to character flaws, laziness, boredom, or a host of other non-IM related causes.

The authors report that a typical IM session lasts 75 minutes. Personal experience suggests this is exaggerated if the figure is taken to mean that 75 minutes of focused time is devoted to the average IM session. While users may indeed report that an IM service is running for 75 minutes per session, the surveys fail to probe the self-reported results to determine the number of messages, a more accurate  indicator of  potential IM attention disruption.

Selective reporting of results further demonstrates bias. For example, the authors report that distractibility was “significantly predicted by the amount of IMing.” However, they do not report that responding quickly to IMs, an obvious indicator of distractibility, was less of a predictor than listening to music. Similarly, they cite research that found television viewing increased attention problems; however, the authors own data shows television has less impact than music, and that playing video games decreases academic distractions.

The authors claim three possible explanations for IM’s interference with academic pursuits:

  • IM takes time away from studies
  • IM directly interferes with studies
  • IM changes students into superficial multitaskers

The authors endorse this third possibility by spending additional time exploring its plausibility by reference to other studies. However, even if the definition of academic distractibility were accurate, even if the design has been observational rather than anecdotal, and even if the results had been reported fully and fairly, additional explanations exist for the cause-effect relationship the authors falsely claim to have proven.


The difficulty of multitasking

Carrie, L., Cheever, N., Rosen, L., Benitez, S., & Chang, J. (2009). Multitasking across generations: Multitasking choices and difficulty ratings in three generations of Americans. Computers in Human Behavior 25. pp. 483-489.

The authors consider an important issue–how multitasking differs among age groups–but fail to adequately limit their definitions or explore deeper hypotheses. For example, they refer to an earlier study that defines the most common multi-tasking behavior among 14-16 year-old youth as, “listening to audio media while travelling,” an activity that hardly seems to fit; the activity would be appropriate to include if it were driving while listening to music among 17-19 year-olds. The hypotheses they consider seem superficial:

  • that younger generations will multitask more
  • that generations will choose different tasks to combine
  • that  younger generations will find it easier to multitask
  • that generations will find different task combinations difficult

The authors measure daily task activity by generation and self-reported combinations (and the corresponding difficulties of those combinations) of tasks by generation. The findings are predictable:

  • younger generations report more multitasking
  • all generations combine the same tasks (which may be attributed to cognitive limits)
  • the oldest generation reported more combinations to be difficult
  • all generations found the same combinations difficult (which again may be attributed to human limitations)

The primary problem with the research is the complete reliance on self-reporting. In their defense, the authors list three limits on the research:

  1. no distinction was drawn between task switching and parallel processing
  2. the study measured only decisions made about multitasking, not the actual ability to multitask (task congruence, not task performance)
  3. future research may show common costs of task switching regardless of generation (which could lend credence to the claim of cognitive limits)

Meaningful tools

Fetterman, D. (2002). Web Surveys to Digital Movies: Technological Tools of the Trade. Educational Researcher. 31(6). pp. 29-37.

Any article on technology tools is out of date the instant it is published; however, this article endures far better than the 2002 date suggests, possibly because Fetterman concentrates on tools that build meaning. Without inventing a complicated taxonomy, he lists a number of tools and their practical application:

  • Surveys (for gathering feedback)
  • Photography (for socialization)
  • Voice recognition (for data collection)
  • Collaborative file sharing (for group projects)
  • Video conferencing (for nonverbal communication)
  • Chat (for immediacy)
  • Reporting (for fast dissemination of research results)
  • Movies (for compelling capture of events)

Two conclusions seem appropriate seven years later:

  1. tracking changes by users in collaborative files is an invaluable feature–and yet is still elusive in Web applications (Google’s Wave may change that)
  2. private chat rooms allow users to maintain contact “more than any single software used”

While Fetterman’s optimistic vision of copyright-free accessibility still seems out of reach, his advocacy of a culture of participation has already come to pass. And as an instructional technologist, I personally appreciated his  admonition that “it is necessary to learn about technology to learn (and to help others learn how to learn) effectively with it.”

Research Directions (Web 2.0)

Greenbow, C., Robelia, B. & Hughes, J. (2009). Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in a Digital Age: Web 2.0 and Classroom Research: What Path Should We Take Now? Educational Researcher. 38(4). 246-259. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336671.

Dede, C. (2009). Comments on Greenbow, Robelia, and Hughes: Technologies That Facilitate Generating Knowledge and Possibly Wisdom. Educational Researcher. 38(4). 260-263. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336672.

Leu, D., O’Byrne, I., Zawilinski, J., McVerry, G., & Everett-Cacopardo, H. (2009). Comments on Greenbow, Robelia, and Hughes: Expanding the New Literacies Conversation. Educational Researcher. 38(4). 264-269. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336676.

Owston, R. (2009). Comments on Greenbow, Robelia, and Hughes: Digital Immersion, Teacher Learning, and Games. Educational Researcher. 38(4). 270-273. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336673.

Zhang, J. (2009). Comments on Greenbow, Robelia, and Hughes: Toward a Creative Social Web for Learners and Teachers. Educational Researcher. 38(4). 274-279. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336674.

Greenbow, C., Robelia, B. & Hughes, J. (2009). Response to Comments on Research on Learning and Teaching with Web 2.0: Bridging Conversations. Educational Researcher. 38(4). 280-283. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336675.


This interesting set of articles shows scholarship and the peer review process played out in print. Greenbow begins the multilogue by taking Owston’s 1997 and Windschitl’s 1998 seminal articles on the function of the Web in education and fast-forwards the discussion to the Web 2.0 of today. While the assertion that Web 1.0 was “authenticated knowledge” is inaccurate, the definition of Web 2.0–a platform and a space built on de-centralized knowledge co-constructed from collective agreement–is encompassing and practical. The description of Web 2.0 technologies could be clarified:

  • Web 2.0 is best viewed not as a single platform, but as a collection of “small pieces, loosely joined” (and users define those linkages)
  • RSS and XML are the core technologies implemented in AJAX and REST

While Greenbow notes that interconnections , creation/remixing, and interactivity are Web 2.0 affordances, and while Web 2.0 has been termed the “participatory” Web, the distinguishing factor is the seamless integration of connections (among people and among artifacts) which bring to (digital) life Mark Granovetter’s theory of the strength of weak ties. The ecology lens adds a realistic perspective, viewing learning across multiple spaces (although learning doesn’t travel across these spaces but rather with learners through the spaces). And while Wikipedia does “little to generate meaningful patterns,” it could easily do so with the addition of user feedback mechanisms, version visualization, and user-centric tag clouds.

Greenbow lays out a three-part research agenda:

  1. what learners do with Web 2.0
  2. equity and access to Web 2.0
  3. building theory and corollary practices and policies

In the discussion of identity formation, Greenbow identifies areas which seem particularly relevant to Web 2.0: the need to consider learners as multiple selves, and the risks and benefits of emergent online identity development. However, in discussing the possible integration of Web 2.0 and school, two findings seem suspect:

  • students come to campus expecting to leverage online social networks to learn
  • 70% of parents believe social networks would help students improve reading and writing

In arguing for the concept of social scholarship, Greenbow identifies key elements:

  • sharing resources
  • developing an online (scholarly) identity
  • publishing and discussing individual research

The research element is particularly intriguing. Publishing in print means permanence and the ability for scholars to later reflect, dissect, and replicate. In the Web 2.0 world, digital research is now offering the same durability intertwined with a communicative interchange. At the same time, research into Web 2.0 (as opposed to research using Web 2.0) highlights the traditional ethical question of researcher impact, a problem acknowledged by danah boyd in her Friendster research.


While Dede’s taxonomy is simplified (mash-ups are less like the co-creation of wikis and more similar to blogging), and while I prefer Shirkey’s ego-centric and object-centric delineation, Dede proposes a sweeping idea to foster wisdom: a suite of Web 2.0 tools could provide an environment for addressing wicked problems where:

  • stakeholders have different views
  • constraints change over time
  • solutions must be attempted before the problem can be understood
  • no complete solution will ever exist


Leu approaches the conversation from a different perspective which seems designed primarily to advance a personal vision. Leu first identifies four limitations to Greenbow’s use review:

  1. the progression from Web 1.0 to 2.0 is continuous not binary (true)
  2. networking tools used for social interaction should not direct academic interaction (true although social networking tools should be analyzed and the appropriate affordances should then be incorporated into formal discourse)
  3. Web 2.0 tools should also be considered for the workplace (true although the original scope was defined as academic settings–and adults use Web 2.0 differently than do young adults)
  4. information technology is slighted in favor of communication technology (actually, Greenbow’s analysis is of usage not technology)

Leu’s proposal to view Web 2.0 as a literacy issue–and particularly to integrate the Web into subjects–is welcome. The distinction between new literacies and New Literacies (lower-case literacies are tested and become part of upper-case Literacies and then shared with other lower-case literacies) is needlessly pedantic. However, the caution on equitable access warrants continued monitoring.


Owston offers three potential areas for elaboration:

  1. the effects of continuous immersion
  2. the use for professional development
  3. the use of games for learning

Owston cites only a single research study that suggests digital media impairs the development of reasoning and social abilities; this area warrants further investigation because conflicting research suggests that some digital tools increase problem-solving, metacognitive ability, and effective collaboration. Owston advocates online professional development (based on asynchronous access to a community) and accurately acknowledges three potential problems: community sustenance, the tension between structure (which increases participation) and creative flexibility, and community socialization (made easier in face-to-face mode). The finding that successful online professional development programs were “directly related to the curriculum that teachers were teaching” underscores the importance of situated learning. Owston’s report of the ability for games to increase traditional literacy and improve collaboration skills seems to conflict with his earlier assertion that digital media impairs the development of these abilities.


Zhang’s design-based research perspective offers the ability to quantify the research areas suggested by Greenbow. Zhang emphasizes the community aspects of Web 2.0 and succinctly outlines the dilemmas posed by integrating Web 2.0 into the academy:

  • Web 2.0 enables collaboration but doesn’t treat these communication artifacts “as explicit objects in their own right” which inhibits reference and synthesis
  • Web 2.0 supports collaboration but doesn’t retain the historical evolution of knowledge with progressive visibility

Web 2.0 represents a classical tension between the gatekeeper model of peer review (offering both organization and totalitarianism) and the participatory model of consensus (offering both creativity and the superficial popularity of personal opinion). If Surowiecki’s “wisdom of crowds” model has validity in academia, it may need extension with visible and attributable iteration.

Zhang recommends four DBR areas:

  • Reflective representation of community knowledge
  • Inquiry into pedagogy
  • Progress-focused peer review
  • Scaffolding collaborative creativity

Zhang puts these recommendations into practice by tying the goals to professional teacher development.

Greenbow (redux)

Greenbow reminds us that research-based environments for teachers have not scaled up or altered teaching practice, a problem that must lead us to consider alternatives. Incorporating the reviewers’ comments, Greenbow proposes an alternate model in which research is presented as it progresses, a model which provides history and rigor while retaining the advantages of collaboration and multiple perspectives.

Creating Culture (Clash)

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Retrieved September 16, 2009 from

Henry Jenkins, Director of MIT’s Comparative Studies Program, defines a participatory culture by low barriers to entry, social support for participation among peers, informal mentoring, a culture in which contributions matter, and a social connection through participation. Noting the PEW research that showed 50% of teenagers created media, he sees several forms of participatory culture:

  • Affiliations (such as social networks)
  • Expressions (such as SN profiles and blogs)
  • Collaborative problem-solving (such as gaming)

He also enumerated circulations (creating blogs and podcasts) as a form although that form seems indistinguishable from expressions.

Jenkins posits three problems in media literacy:

  1. Participation – this problem is less concerned with the “last mile” issue and more with access and skills
  2. Transparency – this problem is teaching students how to determine the validity of messages
  3. Ethics – this problem deals not only with issues such as intellectual property, but also with the tendency of teenagers to view the online world as one without rules; however, his example–the number of teenagers who lie about their age in order to gain online access to sites–may not indicate a problem with ethics in today’s teenagers nor a problem with ethics in online space, but instead be indicative of typical self-centered teenage desires.

He defines new media literacy skills as traditional textual literacy overlaid with social skills, and he notes, “Social production of meaning is more important than individual interpretation multiplied.” New media literacy involves working within networks; pooling knowledge; negotiating; and resolving conflicting data.

In the major section of the paper, Jenkins lists eleven skills (although some seem duplicative and several overlap) and proposes possible means to teach the skills:

  1. Play as experimentation to solve problems. Play is characterized by focused engagement and should not be confused with fun; although play isfun, it can also be hard work, and thus play does not necessarily equal relaxation. Play lowers the emotional stakes of failing and encourages trial and error.
  2. Simulation as interpreting and constructing dynamic models of real world. The key word is models which means that simulations offer simplified views of the real world. Jenkins notes that understanding the assumptions behind the models (interpretation) is critical.
  3. Performance as adopting alternative identities to improvise and discover.Alternative identities allow multiple perspectives and simulate group heterogeneity. However, performance can also be viewed as the ability to perform which is similarly prized (being able to “walk the walk”).
  4. Appropriate as sampling and remixing media content.Jenkins reminds us that, “Students learn by taking culture apart and putting it back together.” While digital content makes this process easier, appropriation has been a valued and valuable human activity for thousands of years.
  5. Multi-tasking as scanning and shifting focus.information overload impinges on working memory limits, and multi-tasking addresses this issue. Multi-tasking is notworking on tasks simultaneously by facilely switching among tasks.
  6. Distributed cognition as interacting with tools.While describing distributed cognition as tool interaction, Jenkins also acknowledges the description I’ve heard more often: interacting with social institutions and remote experts (which in some sense, could be viewed as tools)
  7. Collective intelligence as knowledge pooling toward a common goal. This focus on teamwork and collaboration parallels modern work, but students are taught to be generalists instead of being taught how to assume different roles.
  8. Judgment as evaluating reliability and credibility. Involves both accuracy and interpreting the producer’s perspective (and possible bias). Jenkins reminds us that the “wisdom of crowds” works best when large numbers participate.
  9. Transmedia navigation as flow across multiple modes. This skill is not only the ability to work on cell phones and computers, but also is the ability to navigate the intersection of real life and virtual life (in social networks like Facebook).
  10. Networks as searching, synthesizing, and disseminating. The role of gatekeepers of information is diminishing as search becomes more powerful; however, students are weak in synthesis skills. Dissemination, typically via social networks, may not require technical skill but certainly requires the exercise of judgment.
  11. Negotiation as traversing diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives. Multiple perspectives, just like alternative identities, enables the constructive debate necessary for deep learning.

Jenkins proposes that these skills can be developed in three venues:

  • by schools (not as a course but integrated into every course)
  • by after-school programs (not as school reinforcement but as complement and extension)
  • by parents (although parents themselves need help learning with these skills)

Social Networks and Teens

Pew Internet and American Life Project (2007, January). Social Networking Websites and Teens: An Overview. [Pew Internet Project Data Memo] pp. 1-10. retrieved 09/15/2009 from Lenhart, A. and Madden, M.

This overview from Pew’s ongoing project to examine the intersection of the Internet and American culture confirms the explosive growth of social networking sites among teens (55% of teens who are online use social networks, and 44% of teens visit SN websites at least daily). These social networks provide two primary affordances:

  • a public and often dynamic representation (teens reported that a “profile page is more engaging if it changes frequently”)
  • public and private communications tools (84% of social networking teens post “public” messages to a friend’s page or wall; 82% of social networking teens send private messages to friends using the social networking system)

At the same time, the memo debunks several myths about teen use of social networks like MySpace and Facebook:

  • 91% of social networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently (they are not meeting strangers)
  • 66% of teens who have created profiles limit access to that profile (they are not letting it all hang out–except to people they know)

Wikipedia on CSCL

The Wikipedia entry for CSCL provides a practical overview but could be strengthened with clarification and additional examples.


  • distinguish between collaborative and cooperative learning
  • provide specifics on how “learners label aspects of their communication”

Current Research

  • add specific data on CSCL “tools as aides to learning” including data that comes from non-classroom modes

Means and Mediums

  • elaborate on multiple means and mediums


  • Wikis
    • Clarify use of wikis for reflection
    • Change example to students’ adding personal experiences to a topic
  • Learning Management systems
    • Consider renaming to Discussion Boards, the major CSCL tool within an LMS
  • Survey systems
    • Add example that shows how survey systems are used for CSCL
  • Video-conferencing/file sharing applications
    • Move file-sharing to Online Image/Video Sharing topic
    • Differentiate by virtue of synchronous nature
  • Online Collaborative Workspaces
    • Consider reframing as Web 2.0 services
  • Online Whiteboards
    • Provide additional examples of content that require visualization
  • Virtual worlds
    • Provide examples of additional subjects (other than writing/reading) that can make use of this tool
  • Mind maps
    • Add example of collaborative mind map tools
    • Consider moving to the Online Collaborative Workspaces (Web 2.0) section

Teacher’s Role

  • Add reference link for Ku, Lohr, and Cheng (2004) article
  • Extend list of competencies with practical details