Pondering one of the tricks of academia: juggling tasks, work

As my school takes several days for Fall Break (and I nope students, faculty, and staff get a little respite), I am reminded of one of the secrets of academia: the academic work is never-ending and there are numerous tasks that are all vying to be done now.

I hear this from students in several different forms. They will discuss the various assignments and requirements across the four or so classes they are taking at the same time. This is a lot to handle; which tasks should they prioritize? Or, students will describe feeling like there is always work to do, whether they are in the classroom or back in their dorm or apartment. At least during the course of semesters, it seems like there is more to do.

Faculty face similar pressures. With teaching, publishing, and service responsibilities, let alone life off campus, faculty have plenty to do. Even when the semester ends and the grading is all done, breaks can only last so long because there are ideas to pursue and work to catch up on before another round of on-campus activities begin. In order to do good research, faculty need time to mull over ideas and make revisions and carry out the research process – but all this takes place while doing other things.

And for both students and faculty, there can often be a nagging feeling that others are doing more (it is not hard to find peers who have amazing productivity) or that we should be doing more (and giving up time in other areas). The anxiety lingers: what should I be doing now?

All of this is not easy to manage. Even if the work is invigorating or the tasks sometimes not that difficult, just the number of them and changing nature of the work can be daunting. Staying organized, having a strong support system as well as activities that bring relief, and finding accomplishments can go a long way.

This means that the flexibility of the student and faculty roles comes at a price: more tasks await even during breaks. From the outside, the summer breaks look nice – and they can be – but there is also work to do during these times. Finding a way through these challenges is something students and faculty must navigate.

US average of 3 hrs 40 min a day on mobile devices

A new report shows that Americans are spending more time on their mobile devices:

U.S. consumers spend, on average, three hours and 40 minutes each day on their mobile devices, an increase of 35% from a year ago in the second quarter of 2014. And that time spent on mobile devices continues to increase, said Simon Khalaf, senior vice president of publishing products at Yahoo.

Globally there are 280 million “mobile addicts,” who use apps more than 60 times daily. Effectively, “these folks are conducting their lives on mobile,” Khalaf said. Regular users access apps up to 16 times daily, Flurry’s research found.

Over the last six months, the average time consumers spend on their phones or devices has increased by 43 minutes, or 24%, he said. “This is the mobile revolution,” Khalaf said. “There hasn’t been a single industry that hasn’t been disrupted by mobile and its applications.”

Khalaf revealed the findings Wednesday at Yahoo’s mobile developer conference in New York. The new data, also posted on the Yahoo Developer Tumblr page, came from mobile analytics company Flurry, which he was CEO of when Yahoo acquired Flurry in July 2014, and other sources including comScore and NetMarketShare. Flurry tracks 720,000 apps across two billion mobile devices.

Two quick thoughts:

  1. If the time on mobile devices is up so much, what other activities decreased in time? Perhaps some users have shifted time from other devices – like television or computers – but this data also might be based on double counting time (watching TV and on a mobile device). More multitasking with phone in hand might be the culprit here.
  2. The phrase “mobile addicts” seems odd here. Typically when we refer to addictions, we are referencing something that negatively interferes with other areas of life. However, attendees at a mobile developer conference might see this addiction as a good thing (more customers!) and Khalaf says people “are conducting their lives on mobile.” Is this addiction (probably not) or just a new normal?

Studies suggest texting in class is related to lower grades, GPA

Several studies in recent years have examined the link between students texting and using Facebook in in class and their grades. The Chicago Tribune summarizes the studies:

In the past five years researchers have published the results of five surveys and experiments that link texting and Facebooking with lower academic performance. In 2011, researchers at California State University reported that students who received or sent a high number of text messages during a video recorded lecture scored worse on a quiz than those who received or sent few or no text messages.

In a 2012 study, a researcher at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania surveyed 1,800 students about how often they Facebook, instant message, email, text, search online and talk on the phone in class. Among the results: 69 percent of students reported they had texted in class, and students who texted or used Facebook more frequently in class had lower overall semester GPAs. The author of that study, Reynol Junco, also co-wrote a study that linked texting and Facebooking during study time with lower GPAs…

“That I can be definitive about: That’s not working. If you’re going to search (online) during class, I don’t have any data telling you to stop. If you’re going to email during class, I don’t have any data to tell you to stop. But do not text or Facebook during class. Do not text or Facebook while you’re studying for your classes, because that’s another area where this is definitely a negative.”…

Junco’s evidence against texting and Facebooking is correlational, meaning that his studies show that students who Facebook or text more in class or while studying do worse academically, but not that the texting or Facebooking itself is causing the problem. It’s possible that, say, an easily distractible student is texting a lot and doing poorly in class, with the underlying cause of poor performance being the distractibility, not the texting. But Junco points to two other college studies in which researchers, not students, largely determined which students would do the most media multitasking in class.

In both the studies — the California State study and one published in 2012 in the journal Computers and Education — a form of media multitasking (texting or Facebooking) was linked to lower student performance.

It would be interesting to pair data like this with student’s perceptions of whether they are doing better or worse in a class because they are texting, browsing, or not. It would be one thing if students knew that texting was distracting and did it anyway and yet another thing if they were so used to texting that they were unaware of its possible effects.

Let’s say future studies more clearly establish a causal link. Would colleges then move to banning cell phone use or Facebooking in class? Or is this one of those areas that would generate a lot of negative feedback from students who would want the freedom to do more of what they want in class?