The UK’s Chief Medical Officers are now officially advising parents to ban their children from using phones and other electronic devices in their bedrooms and during meal times. These are two out of nine specific recommendations made in a recent official report entitled:
It’s also a great example of an amazing ‘literature review’… they go through a stack of evidence on social media/ screen time/ internet use effects and ask lots of methods questions about each piece of research to determine whether or not those studies are high/ middle or low quality.
Interestingly the report said that there wasn’t enough available evidence to issue any guidelines on the total amount of time children should spend online or using screens in any one day or week, but that there was sufficient evidence to suggest limiting uses in specific contexts when using them can upset other beneficial activities.
Hence why the report recommends that parents limit their children’s use of phones at the following times:
While crossing the road.
The report also highlighted the fact that parents shouldn’t just assume that their children would be happy with them posting lots of pictures of them online and criticised some parents for ‘oversharing’.
Interestingly the report also highlighted the lack of high quality research into the impact of screen time, and stressed that more research was needed and they called on tech companies to share data to aid research.
Finally, the report also recommended that social media platforms and technology companies sign up to a voluntary code of conduct to protect children online, and hinted at possibly introducing new laws to protect children online.
Relevance to A level sociology
Firstly, the report seems to suggest there is some evidence that increased screen time has made childhood more ‘toxic’, because using them is proven to disrupt beneficial activities such as sleep and conversation during meal times.
The report seems to be saying the government is powerless to do anything to prevent Corporations from carrying on with their deliberate attempts to get children to spend more time on screens, merely suggesting that they might sign up to a voluntary code of conduct. So this demonstrates the might of the tech TNCs and the weakness of the Nation State.
Instead, the report focuses on ‘lifeworld’ or ‘privatised solutions to public problems’ – in other words, it’s down to the individual parents to regulate their children’s use of screens.
The report also makes it clear that we cannot say ‘a certain amount of screen time is bad’ – there isn’t evidence to back up a particular figure. This isn’t surprising given that there are different ways we can use our screens, so the idea that ‘screen time’ in general is going to be good or bad is maybe a bit ridiculous!
Finally, this is a good example of a late modern response rather than a postmodern response to a social problem – the report doesn’t just say ‘we’re uncertain, do what you like’, it says ‘there is some evidence that specific uses of screens at particular times prevent beneficial activities taking place, thus you should do x/y/z… i.e. we still have valid knowledge and a clear path of action even in the midst of uncertainty!
Friedrich Nietzsche suffered from severe health problems through most of his life, so severe that he had to resign his university post as a professor of philology at the University of Basel when he was just 34 years old in 1879.
By 1881, he found that his vision was failing and that if tried to focus on reading or writing, he would soon be defeated by crushing headaches and even vomiting.
In desperation, he ordered a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, basically a typewriter, but funky in the extreme, and in fact the fastest one made to date: with practice one could type up to 800 characters a minute.
This typewriter saved Nietzsche, at least for a time, as once he’d learned to use it, he was able to transfer words from his mind to the page with his eyes shut, thus avoiding the crippling headaches that came with regular writing.
But the device had a subtler effect on his work: one of his closest friends, Heinrich Koselitz, noticed a change in the style of his writing. There was a new forcefulness to it, as though the iron in the machine was being transferred onto the page.
Nietzsche agreed, stating in a letter to his friend that ‘out writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts’.
Recent studies have found that neurons are both like and unlike other cells in our bodies. Neurons have central cores, or somas, which carry out the functions of common to all cells, but they also have two kinds of tentacle like appendages – axons and dendrites – that transmit and receive electric pulses.
When a neuron is active, a pulse flows from the soma to the tip of the axon, where it triggers the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters which flow across synapses and attach themselves to a dendrite of a neighbouring neuron, triggering (or suppressing) a new electric pulse in that cell.
There are 100 billion neurons in the human brain, which take many different shapes and range in length from a few tenths of a millimeter to a few feet. A single neuron has one axon, and many dendrites and dendrites and axons can each have multiple branches and synaptic terminals.
The average neuron makes about 1000 synaptic connections.
In other words, our brain is incredibly complex, consisting of millions of billions of connections.
Thoughts, memories, emotions, and basically our entire sense of who we are all emerge from the electrochemical interactions of neurons mediated by synapses.
The historically mistaken idea of the ‘mechanical brain’
Throughout the 20th century, most biologists and neurologists continued to believe, as many still do, that the structure of adult brain never changed: the brain was viewed as something which was malleable in childhood but became fixed in adulthood. The only structural change the brain would go through was that of decay.
There were a few heretics such as British biologist J.Z. Young and psychologist William James, but the mainstream scientific view was of the fixed structure adult brain.
Descartes was one of the first people to popularise this idea. For Descartes, in his Meditations of 1641 he claimed the brain consisted of two separate spheres: the material and the ethereal. Descartes saw the physical brain as purely mechanical instrument like a clock or a pump, while the conscious mind was more ethereal…
As reason became more part of the enlightenment, the idea of the ethereal disappeared and the idea of the brain as something which was hardwired took root.
This conception fitted in well with the industrial age obsession with mechanical contraptions. The brain was conceived of a machine that worked in a set way.
From the hardwired brain to neuroplasticity
In 1968, Michael Merzenich mapped out the neural circuitry of monkey brains, using micro-electrodes.
He cut open a monkey’s skull, inserted a micro-electrode into a particular part of the brain he new to be associated with hands. He then prodded various parts of the monkey’s hand until the electrode lit up. He repeated this process thousands of times, inserting the electrode into slightly different parts of the brain, with five monkeys. Eventually he had the most detailed neural map (to date) of which specific parts of the brain registered sensation from which part of the hand.
In the second phase of the experiment, Merzenich moves on to severing some of the peripheral nerves in the monkeys’ hands, which grow back haphazardly.
He then proceeded with the prodding and electrodes in the brain to see how the brain reacts. At first the brain is confused: when the tip of the left finger is prodded (for example), the brain thinks the sensation is actually coming from somewhere else, maybe the middle finger.
However, after a few months the brain has remapped itself, and the new map corresponds to the new nerve structure which has grown back in the hands: prod a little finger, and the part of the brain associated with the little finger lit up again.
What Merzenich had discovered was evidence of neuroplasticity in mature primates.
He published his findings in April 1972 in the Journal ‘Brain Research’, but his findings were ignored, it seems, because they lay outside the dominant paradigm of the time which held that the adult brain was immutable and resistant to change.
He persisted in his research, and uncovered further evidence of neuroplasticity, but his findings were ignored for at least a decade more. In 1983 he wrote in another journal…
‘…. these results were completely contrary to a view of sensory systems as consisting of a series of hardwired machines.’
Eventually, however, Merzenich’s research gained credibility with the establishment, and a re-reading of the research-record finds a tradition of ‘deviants’, going back to Freud, that have either theorised or found evidence of the active-learning, ‘neuroplastic’ brain.
More recent evidence for neuroplasticity
From the 1980s research on neuroplasticity evolved with ever more microscopic brain probing equipment, and extensive research has now been carried out on both animals and humans. The evidence today suggests a very high degree of brain plasticity in several neuro circuits – not just those associated with physical sensation, but also seeing hearing, feeling and memory.
Our brains, it appears, are massively plastic. They may get less plastic as we age, but the ability of our brains to reform themselves and create new new neural pathways in response to new experiences carries on into our old age. Our neurons are always breaking old connections and forming new ones, and brand-new nerve cells are always being created.
Every time we perform a task or experience a sensation, whether physical or mental, a set of neurons in our brains is activated… as the same experience is repeated, the synaptic links between the neurons grow stronger and more plentiful. What we learn is embedded in the ever-changing cellular connections inside our head, forming true vital paths. This has become known as Hebbs rule – cells that fire together wire together.
One experiment which demonstrate how synaptic connections can change in relation to experience is Eric Kandel’s Sea Slug (Aplysia) experiment. This found that if you touch a sea slugs gill, it will normally immediately and reflexively recoil. However, if you repeatedly touch the gill without oing it harm, ,the recoil reaction stops.
Neuroplasticity: common ground for nature and nurture views of human development
The plasticity of our synapses brings into harmony two philosophies of the individual that have for centuries been in conflict: the nurture versus nature view of the mind.
This conflict of views stretches all the way back to very beginning of Enlightenment thought. John Locke’s Tabula Rasa empiricist view of the individual as a blank state is one of the earliest expressions of the nurture view of human development, while Kant’s rationalist view of the individual as consisting of a mental template at birth which determines what we can know is one of the earliest theories of human development which favours the role of nature over nurture.
The opposing philosophies of the empiricist and the rationalist find common ground in the synapse – our genes specify many of the connections between neurons, but our experiences regulate the strength or the long-term effectiveness of these connections.
The brain is not the machine we once thought it to be…… the cellular components do not form permanent structures or play rigid roles. There are various examples and experiments which demonstrate this:
If a person is struck blind, the visual cortex will be redeployed and used for audio processing to mitigate the loss of site.
Those struck deaf will develop stronger peripheral vision.
Edward Taub’s success with ‘intensive therapies’ for stroke victims whose brains have been damaged so that they have lost control over one side of their body. His therapies basically involve stroke victims repeating repetitive tasks with their ‘stricken’ limbs until, eventually their brains are reprogrammed, and movement restored.
NB Brain plasticity is not just limited to extreme cases. It seems that the map of the brain is changed in subtle ways even when we simply learn a new skill. The brain is so plastic, in fact, that it can reprogram itself on the fly, change the way it functions.
Two experiments which suggest that lived experience changes the shape of the brain….
The posterior hippocampus region (the bit that deals with spatial awareness) of the brain of London cab drivers is larger than a normal brain. The longer serving cab drivers had the largest posterior hippos.
An experiment with non-piano players got two groups of people to learn a short simple piece. One group practiced the piece 2 hours a day for 5 days, the second group just imagined practising the piece. Both improved, and both demonstrated the same brain changes.
According to Alvaro Pascual-Leone, ‘Plasticity is the normal ongoing state of the nervous system throughout the lifespan’. It may just be that the genius of our brains lies not in it’s complex structure, but in the lack of a structure.
In other words, we become neurologically what we think!
The downsides of neuroplasticity
Unfortunately, plastic does not mean elastic.
The paradox of plasticity is that for all our mental flexibility, it can also lock us into rigid behaviours. Once we have activated new circuitry in our brain, we long to keep it activated. In addition to being the mechanism for development and learning, plasticity can be a cause of pathology’.
Neuroplasticity has been linked to afflictions such as depression, OCD and tinnitus, and it works in much the same way as addictive drugs… the more we focus on these negative traits, the more we get locked into them.
A final problem is that there appears to be a rule of ‘survival of the busiest’. There is an opportunity cost associated with reinforcing any set of neural pathways. If we reinforce one set, others become less prominent. In other words, we cannot be skilled at everything!
In conclusion (to chapter 2)
It is comforting to think of our brain as existing in ‘splendid isolation’ but the research evidence suggests that this is not the case – our brains are a product of our experience. They change as we experience new things.
For my summary of chapter three, please click here. To purchase the whole book, please click the link below…
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Inventors and entrepreneurs across Africa are using Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to tackle some of the ‘development problems’ which the continent faces.
Combating poaching, tracking illegal shipping activities, monitoring oil spills and adding value to Safaris.
In Nigeria, archaeologists are using drones to map traces of the ancient Yoruba civilization
In Sudan, they are being used to fight desertification: by monitoring signs of drought and to plant Acacia trees which prevent social erosion.
In Rwanda, drones deliver blood to 50% of the country’s blood transfusion centres: centres in remote areas can now receive emergency supplies within 30 minutes by drone-parachute, simply by sending a text message.
A summary of Zimbardo and Coulombe’s Man Disconnected, part 4.
It seemed appropriate to devote a whole blog post to this chapter (chapter 11) as this seems to be the main thrust of the book. (No, the book’s not that well organised!)
Chapter 11: Technology Enchantment and Arousal Addiction
J.R.R. Tolkein used the word ‘enchantment’ to define a human being’s total immersion in a fictitious world.He said that the more…
‘You think that you are bodily inside [a] Secondary World [the more] the experience may be very similar to Dreaming… but you are in a dream that some other mind is weaving, and the knowledge of that alarming fact may slip from your grasp’.’
Tolkein’s writing is certainly enchanting – when I first read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings when I was about 11, I was absolutely transported into Middle Earth for most of the book.
However, according to Philip Zimbardo, it is far easier to get wrapped up in online virtual realities than it is in a book, because they are more sensually immersive and have rewards systems and status which hook you in: with games, for example you get to actually play the hero or anti-hero, and gain virtual rewards risk free; while with online porn you get to be a ‘virtual sheikh with a harem’ – having your choice of girls to wank over with no threat of rejection.
Today, both computer games and porn are extremely pervasive, and literally millions of young men use these two together as their first port of call to meet their basic ‘male urges’ – to be competitive/ be a winner/ and gain status, and to achieve sexual gratification – you can do both by using a combination of computer games and porn: in fact, not only is it accessible (and very cheap), you have a choice over exactly which game, or which ‘type’ of porn you want to use to ‘fulfil your needs’.
This has been encouraged precisely because men have been taught to be ashamed of their competitive nature and their male-sexuality over the years: according to Zimbardo these are effectively aspects of masculinity that men have been taught to hide in an era of female liberation: the result is that young men repress these ‘natural’ aspects of themselves in public and turn to online worlds to express these aspects of themselves: to be competitive and get their status rewards through gaming, and get sexually gratified by wanking over porn.
In the world of online gaming and porn gaining status and sexual gratification is very easy: you simply learn a few skills and level up, or choose your fetish and spank your monkey, and millions of young men who have effectively grown up immersed in these environments now have their pleasure sensors hard-wired into this ‘switch on get gratified immediately’ mentality. There is also research which suggests that the more pleasure is associated with habitual patterns of action (such as online gaming and porn) then the less responsive pleasure centres are to less familiar experiences.
The problem with this is that in real-life gaining status through such things such as working with others, and gaining sexual gratification in a relationship are just a little bit more complicated!
Zimbardo has been criticised for lumping gaming and porn together, but he sees them as similar arguing that they are both based on ‘arousal’ and that increasingly the two are merging. As far as he see it, Porn and Video games are potentially psychologically and socially damaging to some males, especially those who use them excessively in social isolation.
Zimbardo points out that games designers may think they’ve ‘hacked Maslow’ except that the rewards online games offer can be achieved without the need to relate effectively others.
Zimbardo now cites research in which in gaming cultures, it is common to mock people for losing, which doesn’t happen in real world sports, and that some gamers retreat further into their gaming worlds the more their offline lives do not yield them success.
There is also a phenomenon in which gamers real world selves becomes more like their gaming personas, and Zimbardo warns us that this could lead to more egocentric and individualised behaviours.
Finally, there is a problem that people’s behaviour can be manipulated online, through clever use of avatars for example, a problem which will become more acute as online and offline worlds become more similar and harder to distinguish.
The Dynamics of Porn
In this section, Zimbardo outlines the results of a survey on the effects of porn on young men and women. The general gist is that the availability of online gratification through porn reduces young mens’ patience, makes them hold themselves to unrealistic expectations and cripples them socially.
He cites numerous interviews with men young and women in which they outline the fact that porn has resulted in a lot of young men suffering from performance anxiety, further evidenced by viagra prescriptions increasing for the under 30s.
Porn also encourages young men to see sex as just an act in itself, with no ‘build up’, or no ‘chase’ as such – young men are now less likely to approach women in night clubs, partly because, in porn, there is no story to lead into the sex-act itself.
Chronic Stimulation, Chronic Dissatisfaction
A recent study by the CDC found that heavy porn users are more likely to suffer long term physical health problems, suggesting that over-stimulation through porn rather than engaging in actual person to person sexual interaction might lead to eventual sexual isolation.
According to Alexa, 5% of the top most 100 viewed websites are porn site, and most of the people viewing them are young men under 24…. Alone in their bedrooms.
And porn sends out certain messages, most obviously that sex is about fucking rather than emotional connection and conversation, and of course condoms are rarely seen in porn.
7/10 heavy porn users report sexual problems in their relationships, compared to 3/10 light porn users.
Research from the Max Planck Institute suggests that heavy porn use ‘wears out the pleasure receptors’….. The lead researcher hypothesizesd that to get a dopamine release, and basically to get an erection, porn users would rely on more and more extreme types of porn….. And sex with the same partner in real life becomes less and less satisfying as a result.
The Madonna-Whore complex…
Zimbardo rounds off this section by suggesting that a lot of men in the Western World have developed a ‘Madonna-Whore complex’ – they regard the women they have, or want to have sex with, as whores… but they cannot deal with women who are both attractive to them and nice – mainly because they can’t sustain an erection when having sex with the same woman over and over again.
The Dynamics of Video Games
Zimbardo starts this question by pointing out by recognising that there are positives to playing computer games, and that that they are really only concerned here with young men who play video games in isolation, primarily with strangers, which is just over a third of all gamers.
For these people, Zimbardo suggests that computer games can make real life and other people seem boring by comparison.
He cites statistically controlled evidence that children who spend more time gaming later on suffer lower paper-test scores at school, and reduced attention spans generally, suggesting that this could explain the higher rate of ADHD among boys compared to girls.
This chapter is a bit skewed – much more evidence on the effects of porn, much less on gaming, and I’m not convinced that it’s useful to lump the two together – these are both hugely diverse areas which at least deserve the attention of being studied separately, surely?
Sociomaterial perspectives hold that datafication via digital devices (both personal and public) are fundamentally intertwined with the way we construct our identities and ‘practice selfhood’, so much so that it is more accurate to say that today we ‘live in media’ rather than ‘we live with media’.
The most obvious manifestation of the intertwining of digital technologies, datafication and selfhood is our extensive use of mobile phones, tablets and laptops: not only do we rely on these devices for information, we also use them (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) to continually upload information about ourselves to the net.
And even if we choose to reduce our use of such technologies, or live without them altogether, our sense of self will still be partially governed by digital technology because so much of public life and public space is informed by its use.
Sociomaterial perspectives on human action are strongly influenced by actor-network theory and take our extensive use of digital technologies into account by focussing on the way that humans interact with non-human material objects such as computers in heterogeneous and diverse networks.
This approach sees objects as agents within a network, able to exert influence on humans, and it is interested in how things and meanings interrelated. It also takes account of how factors such as class, gender and ethnicity influence the context of a relational network.
Sociomaterial perspectives also recognize that there is a complex ‘web’ of interaction which lies beyond (or behind) technologically mediated networks: programmers, marketers etc, and (importantly I think) that the technologies and software which governs action within a network are themselves the product of human interactions (and thus values).
This perspective offers a useful response to post-structuralism which focuses purely on discourses and meanings, which are largely seen as floating free from the material context of action.
More specifically the sociomaterial perspective on understanding selfhood in a digital age focuses on:
How people experience technologies
How technologies are incorporated into people’s senses of self, and how they extend their sense of self
How social relations are configured through such networks incorporating networks.
The concept of assemblage is often used in the sociomaterialism literature. An assemblage is configured when humans, nonhumans, practices, ideas and discourses come together in a complex system. With digital systems, an assemblage will consist of the following:
Computer software and hardware
Manufacturers and retailers
Computer servers and archives
The computing cloud
Platforms and social media
According to sociomaterial perspective, individuals are ‘entangled’ in such assemblages – and understanding these entanglements is a complex business, precisely because these assemblages are complex – there are lot of human, and non-human actors involved.
Within these assemblages, humans can iimbue objects (such as their phones) with biological meaning, and understanding these meanings is key to understanding human action, but humans are also changed by all of the above ‘objects’ (along with the other actual humans) which make up the assemblage in which an individual acts.
Turkle (2007) for example calls mobile devices ‘evocative objects’ because they are basically repositories of ourselves – we have so much information stored on them!
Kitchen and Dodge (2011) use the term code/space to denote the ways in which software and devices such as mobile phones and sensors are configuring concepts of space and identity – our devices may even govern our access to certain spaces (think etickets), and because our behaviour can be tracked through them, we can also be nudged, or disciplined into certain ways of acting via our technologies.
Sources and Notes
This is my summary of part one of chapter two of my current January 2018 read:
Lupton, Deborah (2017) The Quantified Self, Polity
This kind of theory should hit A-level sociology about 2035, about 2 years before the cyborgs take over once and for all.
There are three types of company in the big-data value chain: the companies who collect the data, data-analytics companies, and data-ideas companies. This new ‘organisational landscape’ will change the power-relations between businesses enormously, at least according to Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier (2017) in ‘Big Data’: The Essential Guide to Life and Learning in the Age of Insight;.
‘Pure’ data companies are those which have the data, or at least access to it, but not necessarily have the right skills to extract the value from the data. A good example of such a company is Twitter, which has masses of data but licences it out to independent firms to use.
Data analytics companies are those with the statistical, programming, and communication skills necessary to mining insights from data – Teradata is a good exmaple of such a company.
Finally there are those companies with the ‘big-data mindset’ whose founders and employees have unique ideas about how to unlock and combine data to find new forms of value – for example, Pete Warden, the co-founder of Jetpac, which makes travel recommendations based on the photos users upload to the site.
Data analytics has recently been touted as being in the ‘prime position’ in the big-data value chain: there has been a lot of recent talk of the shortage of ‘data scientists’ in the age of ever increasing amount of data…. The McKinsey Global Institute has talked about this for example, and Google’s chief economist Hal Varian famously called statistician the ‘sexist job around’.
We have been given the impression that we are wallowing in data, but lack sufficient people with the skills to mine this data.
Cukier, however, thinks such claims are exaggerated because it is likely that this skills gap will close. Interestingly, in a recent talk on big data science, this view also seemed to be the consensus.
He predicts that what is more likely to happen is that firms controlling access to the data will start to charge more for it, and big data innovators will be be where the real money is…
Hyrbid Data Companies
Companies such as Google and Amazon stretch across all three links in the data value chain. Google collects data like search-query typos, uses it to create a spell-checker and employs people in-house to do the analytics. Such vertical integration is no doubt precisely why Google is today one of the world’s largest companies.
The New Data Intermediaries
Cukier also predicts that there are certain business sectors which will benefit from giving their data to third parties, because keeping it in-house will not be as beneficial to them as sharing their data and combining it with others – third parties are needed to facilitate trust – for example, travel firms will benefit from such an arrangement, not to mention the banking and finance sectors – where more data is better.
The Demise of the Expert
Cukier also predicts that big data analytics will see specialists in different fields being replaced with those with data-science skills able to manage whatever field based on data. He argues that ‘mathematics, statistics, perhaps with a sprinkling of programming and network science, will be as foundational to the modern workplace as numeracy was a century ago and literacy before that’.
Big Winners, Medium Sized Losers..
Large data companies such as Google and Amazon will continue to soar, but big data presents a challenge to the victors of small-world data such as Walmart, Nestle, Boeing…. How these will adapt remains to be seen.
There are, of course, opportunities for ‘smart and nimble start-ups’, but also individuals might start to sell their own data, possibly through new third party firms.
Kahoot is an online quizzing platform which allows teachers to create multiple choice quizzes which can be played in-class by students, who access the quiz on a mobile device.
Students need to go to Kahoot.it and need a pin (unique to each quiz, and only available once the teacher makes the quiz live) to enter…
There are a few different ‘game’ options (there’s a matching/ ordering version) for example, but here I’m focusing just on the ‘classic’ Kahoot….
How Kahoot works…
NB – I recommend you go check it out for yourself, nothing like practice to get your head around it! (If, of course, you think it’s worth the time investment…)
Questions are projected up like this
Before the screen below just the question appears, for a set amount of time (I like to set this at 10 seconds) – this is thinking time!
And students see the coloured options on their phones like this..
They simply tap the option they think is correct.
Students get points for correct answers and for how quickly they answered, and their ranked at the end of each question in a leader board, and yes of course, there’s an overall winner after all the questions have been answered…
I like to set up a Kahoot with 15-20 questions, which is ENOUGH! Although I’ve seen some with dozens of questions.
You might also like to read the following two posts to see how Kahoot compares to…
Christmas in coming, and I don’t know about you, but if it’s a toss up between starting ‘experiments in research methods’ or playing Kahoot on that slack last day of term… well let’s just say Milgram can wait until January!
It’s possibly the most fun you’ll have in class in all year…
The background ‘data entry’ side of Kahoot is very easy to use – it’s basically the same as for Quizlet, and, as with Quizlet, you can duplicate, modify and repurpose other people’s work.
What I don’t like about Kahoot…
Oh how the children lold all term, yet oh how they wailed when they came to their exams and realised they had no clue WTF analysis was.
Unlike Quizlet, you don’t end up with nice Flashcards which the students can use to review knowledge, and the quizzes aren’t available offline afterwards. IMO Quizlet is far better a time investment for A level sociology teachers.
It actually has quite a discouraging effect on those in the bottom half of the leader board!
Big data enthusiasts argue that the greater data collection and analysis potential provided by e-learning platforms such as Khan Academy and Udacity provide much more immediate feedback to students about how they learn, and they thus predict a future in which schools and private data companies will work together in a new educational ecosystem…
This is a continuation of my summary of Meyer-Schonberger and Cukier’s in their (2017) ‘Big Data: The Essential Guide to Work, Life and Learning in the Age of Insight.
The advantages of e-learning platforms over traditional education
Khan Academy is well-known for its online videos, but just as important to its success is the software which collects data about how students learn, as well as what they are learning.
To date, Khan Academy has data on over a billion completed exercises, which includes information on not only what videos students watch and what tests scores they achieve, but also on the length and number of times they engage with each aspect of the course, and the time of day they did their work. This enables data analysts to deduce (probabilistically) how students learn most effectively, and to provide feedback as to how they might improve their learning.
The Kahn Academy is just one online learning platform, along with a whole range of MOOCs offered through Udacity, Coursera and edX, as well as SPOOCs (small, private online courses) which are collecting huge volumes of data on student learning. The volume of data is unprecedented in human history, and Cukier suggests that this could change the whole ecosystem of learning, incorporating third parties who do the data analysis and with the role of instructors (‘teachers’) changing providing advice on which learning pathways students should adopt.
At least some of the Khan Academy Data on learning is available to third parties to analyse for free, and information personal to students is presented to them in the form a dashboard, which allows for real-time feedback to take place.
Cukier contrasts the above, emerging ecosystem of online learning, to the present ‘backward’ way in which data is collected and managed in the current education system as backward (he actually uses the term ‘agrarian’ to describe the process) – in which students are subjected to a few SATs tests at predetermined stages, and this score is ‘born by them’ until the next test, which makes labelling by teachers more likely.
In addition to this, the school day and year are run in a 19th century style, pigeon holed into year groups, pre-determined classes, students exposed to the same material, and with digital devices often banned from classes. All of this means data cannot be harnessed and analysed.
Where does this leave existing institutions of learning?
Schools and universities are well poised to harvest huge amounts of data on students, simply because they have 1000s, or 10s of 1000s of students enrolled.
To date, however, these traditional education institutions have shown a very limited ability to collect, let alone analyse and use big data to better inform how students learn.
The coming change will affect universities first – these have mature students, and this audience is more than capable of digesting insights about how to learn more effectively… the big universities where fees are expensive and students don’t get much back in return are poised for disruption by innovators…
Some of the very top universities seem to have got the importance of BIg Data – MIT identified EdX as a crucial part of its forward strategy in 2013 for example, but some of the universities lower down the pecking order may find it difficult to compete.
The response of some forward looking schools is to embrace elearning – recognising the importance of getting and utilising more data on how students learn – Khan Academy is partnered with a number of schools, for example Peninsula Bridge, a summer school for middle schoolers from poor communities in the Bay area. – Cukier cites an example of one girl who managed to improve her maths due to this (again, evidence cited is almost non existent here!)
The chapter concludes with imaging a future in which schools are just part of a broader ecosystem of learning – which includes a much more prominent role for private companies and where data plays a more central role in learning.
There are number of factors which may contribute to schools’ inability to harness big data:
Time limitations – as Frank Furedi argues in ‘Wasted’, the function of schools have expanded so that they are now expected to do more than just educate kids – thus an ever larger proportion of schools’ budgets are taken up with other aspects of child development; combined with meddling by successive governments introducing new policies every few years, schools are caught in the trap of having to devote their resources to adapting to external stimuli rather than being able to innovate.
Financial limitations/ equality issues – correct me if I’m wrong, but any online course tailored to GCSEs or A-levels is going to cost money, and this might be prohibitively expensive!
The negative teacher experience of governance by ‘small data’ – there is a staggering amount of small data already collected and teachers are governed by this – it might actually be this experience of being governed by data that makes teachers reluctant to collect even more data – no one wants to be disempowered!
Child privacy rights – there is the not insignificant issue of letting big ICT education companies have access to our children’s learning data!
Socrative is a real-time feedback learning-tool which allows teachers to quickly produce multiple choice, true/ false or open ended questions in order to assess student understanding.
Personally I think Socrative is the most useful online learning tool available to teachers and students studying A-level subjects, much more useful than Quizlet, for example, although it still has its limitations.
How to use Socrative
NB – You might like to just go sign up and try it out, unless you’re a total luddite (in which case go sit down with your tech-bod at school) you’ll find Socrative so easy to use…..
Teachers sign up for a ‘teacher account’ and can creating quizzes in advance of the lesson, or use the quick quiz option to ask one question at a time in class. Teachers will also need to create an online ‘room’ where students can join to take part in the quiz – you’ll need to call the room something simple live ‘Dave’s Sociology Room’. (Actually ideally something shorter than that – Maybe DSOC1, for example).
Once the teacher has started a quiz, students can access the quiz room by any browser, via the Socrative homepage or by the Socrative app if installed on phones/ tablets, and by entering the teacher’s ‘Room Name’ (which will be up on the screen once the quiz is live).
The teacher has the option to make progression through questions either 1 then all pause, or self-paced, and you can put in right or wrong answers, and add in explanation for why a particular answer is correct.
I’m not sure what the upper limit of entrants is, but Socrative has handled more than 20 in my class easily. The beauty of Socrative is that once students have completed all the questions, you get an overview of what questions they got right or wrong – here’s an example from a recent ‘education policies‘ recap I did at the beginning of one lesson the week after we’d taught social policies (in fairness to my teaching, questions 4 and 8 were designed to be tough! Also note that for question 9 I hadn’t set a ‘correct answer’ so it hasn’t colour coded).
And you can dig deeper into responses for each question too, simply by clicking on the question links above…. please note that in order to get a correct answer, students had to identify all three of the polices, and only those three!
Incidentally, another great use for Socrative in sociology is simply to type in the same questions used in ‘opinion surveys’ to get an immediate feel for how students’s values correspond to that of the nation… here’s a sample of today’s students showing that they’re anti-immigration, but probably not quite as intolerant as their grandparents….
In the background of Socrative
Once you’ve signed up as a teacher, you get presented with the options below.. I won’t explain how it’s done, it’s so easy to use!
Uses of Socrative for teaching A level sociology:
As with Quizlet, it’s great for recapping basic knowledge… however, an advantage over quizlet is that it allows you to enter much more challenging multiple choice questions, with answers close together to make students think.
You can tap into analysis and evaluation skills, simply by alternating multi choice knowledge questions with open ended questions asking students to simply justify their answers.
You can use the open ended question function to get students to write Point Explain Elaborate Evaluate essays collaboratively, live online.
With the quick question function, you can get students to select the best answer!
You get immediate feedback about what students need to review.
Socrative stores the reports for you, even with the free version.
You can collect a lot of data about formative learning here, especially if you can figure out a way of combining it with previous attendance, effort etc…
For the free version, it only works when it’s live, you have to actually run it! The quizzes aren’t there all the time for constant review as they are with Quizlet.
Whose got time to actually use the data collected?
P.S. If you want to use the above education policies quiz – here’s the code…
Quizlet is basically an online flashcard and quiz generator – you simply set up a discrete ‘study set’, for example, ‘the Functionalist Perspective on Education’ and create a range of flashcards with brief definitions of key concepts or an overview of the key ideas of theorists, or even ‘stock evaluations’.
In the background of Quizlet… it’s so easy to use…
Quizlet saves your Flashcards and creates a number of different test formats – the three most useful of which are ‘learn’, ‘match’ and ‘test’, at least IMO for reviewing basic knowledge of A-level sociology.
It’s extremely useful for reviewing AO1 (knowledge) and ‘stock’ AO3 – evaluations – basically any kind of knowledge that you might usually review using a sentence sort or matching type activity – content such as…
reinforcing categories of knowledge for some A-level sociology content -e.g. what’s an in-school factor, what’s an out-of school factor, what’s a pull factor, and what’s a push factor…. you might (you might not!) like this ‘rinse and repeat Functionalism/ Marxism‘ test I put together.
key facts and stats (assuming the answers are very discrete – basic stats on education, crime and the family for example.
The strengths and limitations of research method.
key names – the basics of who said what, who researched what.
basic ‘stock evaluations’ one perspective makes of another.
What Quizlet is useful for (for A-level sociology)
There are lots of concepts which students need to know, a combination of flashcards, testing and matching games are quite useful for keeping this ticking over.
It’s also useful for getting students to spell certain words correctly, some of the testing formats demand this!
It gives feedback on what students keep getting wrong.
NB – Unlike Socrative and Kahoot, Quizlet tests are always around, always ‘on’ if you like, students have access to the information at all times, the other two are only playable ‘live’.
There is an excellent ‘live’ version of Quizlet which randomly allocates students to teams – I won’t explain how this works here, but it’s quite a nice way to break up a lesson!
If you sign up for the pro-version, you can create classes and monitor students work – although I imagine professionals already have enough data to deal with!
You can also nab other people’s Quizlets… copy them and edit them so they fit you’re own particular whimsy…
What are the limitations of Quizlet?
I cannot see how you can use it to develop analytical skills. I suppose you could with the use of careful and cunning questioning, but I can’t see the point, you may as well just do this aspect of teaching face to face.
Also, the same goes for deep evaluation skills, you can’t really tap into this.
Basically, you can’t develop ‘chains of reasoning’ on Quizlet, or do anything developmental and discursive.
In conclusion – how to use Quizlet effectively for teaching A level sociology?
Recognize its limitations – good for basic knowledge reviewing, memorizing in a rinse and repeat style, useful for breaking up lessons occasionally, but you can’t develop effective analytical or deep evaluative skills with it!
NB – You also have to make sure that one side of the flash card is short, ideally just one word, rather than complex and long-winded questions. That way most of the test functions work much more effectively.