Archive for April, 2013

Social Media Linked to Poor Academic Performance

A recent study published in the journal Emerging Adulthood examines how the use of social media influences college students’ GPA.  As expected, the more texting, tweeting,TV watching, and social media use reported by the students, the lower their GPA.  Startlingly, the study showed that the average college aged female is spending 12 hours a days engaged in media use.  These behaviors are not just negatively influencing academics, however – they are also contributing to substance abuse and anxiety.  Read on for the full story. 

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Could texting, tweeting and other use of social media hurt one’s GPA? That’s what researchers from The Miriam Hospital’s Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine sought to discover, and the results are that the widespread use of social media among college students, which includes texting to chatting on mobile phones and even just posting status updates on Facebook, could take an academic toll.

According to this new study, many students are engaged nearly half the day in some form of media use. The results of the study were reported online by the journal Emerging Adulthood, an interdisciplinary and international journal for advancement in theory, methodology, and empirical research on development and adaptation during the late teens and twenties.

The study found freshmen women were spending nearly 12 hours a day texting, using the Internet for social media networking, or listening to music and watching videos. Researchers found much of this high use of media was associated with lower grade point averages (GPAs) and other negative academic outcomes.

The exceptions were reading news online or listening to music, which actually was linked to positive academic performance.

This report follows similar research this week that found Facebook use could predict alcohol use and anxiety in college freshmen. That research focused on college aged students and their respective perceived levels of loneliness, anxiety and alcohol and marijuana use in the prediction of emotional connectedness to Facebook, as well as their Facebook connections.

This new study from The Miriam Hospital also contracts a 2011 study conducted at Johnson & Wales University that looked at the effects of social media on college students, which found “as social media sites continue to grow in popularity, it is our premise that technology is a vital part in today’s student success equation.” While social media could play a role in future networking among college grads, it could also be a great distraction for those still taking classes.

The Miriam Hospital study suggests too much media, especially in early adulthood, a time when many young people are living independently for the first time and are away from parental monitoring, could get in the way of academic activities including studying. This research is unique in that it is focused on college students, rather than teenagers still living under the same roof as their parents.

“Most research on media use and academics has focused on adolescents, rather than new college students, or has only examined a few forms of media. So we were curious about the impact of a wider range of media, including activities like social networking and texting that have only become popular in recent years,” said lead author Jennifer L. Walsh, PhD, of The Miriam Hospital’s Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine. “We also wanted to know how media use related to later school performance, since there aren’t many longitudinal studies looking at media use and academics.”

For this study, the researchers surveyed 483 first-year college women at a northeast university at the start of the semester, and the students were asked about the use of eleven forms of media. These included television, movies, music, surfing the Internet, social networking, talking on a cell phone, texting, magazines, newspapers and non-school-related books and video games. Those surveyed were asked about the average weekday and weekend usage from the previous weekend.

The researchers found, on average, college women spent nearly 12 hours using media per day, and mobile phones, social networking, movie/TV watching and magazine reading were the most negatively associated with academic outcomes.

“We found women who spend more time using some forms of media report fewer academic behaviors, such as completing homework and attending class, lower academic confidence and more problems affecting their school work, like lack of sleep and substance use,” said Walsh.

The researchers found the best solution might be to embrace it, rather than try to compete with it.

“Given the popularity of social networking and mobile technology, it seems unlikely that educators will be able to reduce students’ use of these media forms,” Walsh added. “Instead, professors might aim to integrate social media into their classrooms to remind students of assignments, refer them to resources and connect them with their classmates.”

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How Meditation Might Boost Your Test Scores

The New York Times reports promising results of a recent study out of the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Study participants in one group immersed in an intense two week mindfulness workshop showed vast improvements in their GRE scores, with scores averaging 460 before the workshop and averaging 520 afterwards.  A second group was educated on nutrition and asked to keep a food diary – this group showed no improvement in test scores.  This fascinating story addes weight to the growing body of evidence proving  meditation’s myriad benefits – body and mind.  Read on.

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Mindfulness meditation, the ancient and flourishing practice that increases awareness of random thoughts and redirects attention to the present moment, has been used to manage stress, depression and even chronic pain. But can it improve test scores?

 Researchers in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who have been studying the relationship between mindfulness and mind-wandering, or the tendency to let our minds drift away on “task-unrelated thoughts,” as it is referred to in academic literature, sought to find out.

 “We had already found that mind-wandering underlies performance on a variety of tests, including working memory capacity and intelligence,” said Michael D. Mrazek, a graduate student working with Jonathan W. Schooler, a professor of psychology at the university who studies the impacts and implications of mind-wandering and mindfulness. The higher the working memory, or an individual’s ability to keep in mind chunks of information and also use them, the better students tend to perform on reading comprehension tests.

 Researchers disagree about the extent to which an individual’s working memory capacity can be enhanced. But in a study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, the Santa Barbara researchers found that after a group of undergraduates went through a two-week intensive mindfulness training program, their mind-wandering decreased and their working memory capacity improved. They also performed better on a reading comprehension test — a section from the Graduate Record Examination, or G.R.E.

 For the study, the researchers enrolled 48 University of California undergraduates in a study intended, they told them, to improve cognitive performance. Each student was evaluated for working memory capacity, mind-wandering and performance on a G.R.E. reading comprehension section.

 Then, half the group was randomly assigned to take part in a nutrition program, in which they were educated about healthy eating and asked to keep a daily food diary.

 The others took a training that resembled the standard mindfulness-based stress reduction program, which typically meets once a week for eight sessions. In the Santa Barbara regimen, students instead met four days a week for two weeks and were not required to devote as much formal practice outside of class.

 But in the main, the class invoked the secular pillars of the practice, including sitting in an upright posture with legs crossed and gaze lowered, breathing exercises and “minimizing the distracting quality of past and future concerns by reframing them as mental projections occurring in the present.”

 After two weeks, the students were re-evaluated for mind-wandering and working memory capacity and given another version of the G.R.E. reading comprehension section.

 The nutrition group’s results did not change.

 The group that took mindfulness training, however, mind-wandered less and performed better on tests of working memory capacity and reading comprehension. For example, before the training, their average G.R.E. verbal score was 460. Two weeks later, it was 520.

 Richard J. Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has studied brain function in long-term and novice mindful meditators, offered this analogy: “You can improve the signal-to-noise ratio by reducing the noise. Decreasing mind-wandering is doing just that.”

 Other professors of cognitive psychology thought the study was well done, although based on a small sample, with results that have yet to be replicated.

 “A type of training that can help one avoid susceptibility to worries, or other sources of mind-wandering, very well could improve performance,” said Nelson Cowan, a professor at the University of Missouri who specializes in the study of working memory capacity and attention, in an e-mail message.

 Daniel T. Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and author of “When Can You Trust the Experts? How to Tell Good Science From Bad in Education,” said that “when you see these big effects, it may not be that you’ve really fundamentally changed how the mind works. But you have removed a stumbling block that was absorbing them.”

 The Santa Barbara researchers have also recently worked with local high school students to see whether the results can be repeated using the SAT. But psychology professors like David Z. Hambrick of Michigan State University questioned how long the effects of a two-week training program would last.

 Professor Davidson, who has studied Buddhist monks who have practiced meditation for 34,000 hours over the course of their lives, said, “If you have people who are out of shape and then do two weeks of physical exercise, you’ll see some benefit. But if they stop exercising, the benefits won’t persist.”

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Is the Cost of Private Tutoring Worth the Money? It Depends

A recent article from the website Education News examines the efficacy of federally funded tutoring programs mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.  Suprisingly, nearly half the tutoring programs scrutinized in the Columbus area failed to help students improve, calling into question the regulatory practices in place to monitor tutoring agencies.  Given the hefty price tage attached to private tutoring, it would be reassuring to know that our heard earned dollars are going to a reputable and effective tutors – and hopefully the future of the industry will see tighter controls.  Read on for the full story. 

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Millions of parents today are seeking private remedial help supplement their children’s education, writes Missy Sullivan at Smart Money Magazine.

The “supplemental education” sector is now an estimated $5 billion business, 10 times as large as it was in 2001, according to Michael Sandler, founder of education research and consulting firm Eduventures.

The tutoring, called “supplemental educational services,” is offered to children who attend a school with poor academic performance and a high level of poverty. Tutoring is sometimes free to parents and funded through federal grants.

Experts say the fastest-growing group of tutoring consumers is high school students, driven by cutthroat competition for college admission.

But how effective is private tutoring? Parents in the state of Ohio who are interested in picking a tutor for their children now can see how effective groups have been.

Columbus city officials have published effectiveness ratings for the more than 200 tutoring contractors that serve Ohio students through a federally required program, writes Jennifer Smith Richards at the Columbus Dispatch. More than half of the tutoring groups that Columbus evaluated were rated “not effective.”

Such a list wasn’t previously made public. The move is a first step in a state effort to overhaul the No Child Left Behind tutoring system.

“Although these evaluations have been performed by districts for years, they have not been easy for the public to see. We are changing that today,” state Superintendent Stan Heffner said in a written release.

“Those scores show that this program needs dramatic change, and we are committed to making it happen.”

Of the more than 200 tutoring contractors on the list:

20 were rated “not effective,” including six that can’t provide tutoring anymore.

89 scored as “needs improvement.”

101 were considered “effective.”

Federal law mandates that a provider be removed from the program if it has been deemed ineffective for two years, writes Smith Richards.

After an Education Department probe into the Columbus providers, Heffner ordered a statewide overhaul that will impose tougher standards on tutors, publicly report their performance and help districts oversee the contractors. All of the groups that tutor through the program will have to reapply before the 2012-13 school year to keep participating.

An editorial at the Baltimore Sun believes that Maryland should do better ensuring that private tutoring groups are held accountable for results:

“The Baltimore City school system took a crucial next step last year with a new teacher contract that will directly tie promotion and advancement to student outcomes. So it’s mystifying that so little effort is being made to hold the private tutoring groups that are getting millions of dollars a year to help students from Baltimore’s worst-performing schools accountable for the results they promise, or even to know whether they’re making a difference.”

Baltimore City has a high proportion of students from poor families and the school system has notably struggled with the progress requirements of NCLB. All of this contributes to the fact that the city has had to spend up to $55 million on private tutors over the last nine years.

The tutoring program was one of the more glaring flaws of NCLB, which U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is now urgently asking Congress to revise, writes the editorial.

“Until that happens, however, Mr. Duncan says he will grant waivers to states that embrace the Obama administration’s reform efforts. A waiver would give Maryland the opportunity not only to keep the majority of its schools in compliance with the law but also to demand greater accountability from the private tutoring groups it pays to help poor students succeed.”

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Conscientiousness Linked To Higher College GPA Scores

An interesting new study set out to determine the relationship between the Big Five personality traits – agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness to experience – and college GPA.  Interestingly, a higher degree of conscientiousness was found to be linked to higher GPAs in college students.  Nicer people simply have higher grades, and researchers are now considering how this information might be useful in the college admissions process.  Might personality profiling be a part of the future for college admissions?   Read on for the full story. 

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It’s often been said that nice guys finish last. In other words, those interested in helping others or trying to leave the world a better place than when they found it will inevitably end up denigrated by the guys who fight only for themselves. It’s safe to say this is a sentiment not shared by Sam McAbee, a psychology graduate student at Rice University in Houston, TX. According to a new study conducted by McAbee and a professor of psychology at his school, nice guys (and ladies) finish first in some aspects of life, such as grade point average.

McAbee and professor Fred Oswald examined previous studies which looked for a link between the “Big Five” personality traits and grade point average in college students. In all tests, McAbee and Oswald found that conscientious or nice people were more likely to earn better marks in school. It’s a study which McAbee says could play a significant role when it comes to admitting high school seniors into college.

“Research on these personality tests helps us gain a better understanding of how various personality traits may affect academic outcomes and other important life outcomes,” said McAbee in a press statement. “And although some researchers have questioned whether these personality measures might vary in their validity or effectiveness for predicting these outcomes, our analysis shows that all five measures produce similar results in the academic domain.”

The Big Five personality traits include agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness to experience. In each round of tests examined by McAbee and Oswald, there was a strong link between conscientiousness and a higher grade point average. The researchers even used different methods to determine how conscientious a person was, as well as determine any other personality traits.

The results were the same. No matter which test was used to gauge how nice a person was, their grade point averages were simply higher.

McAbee and Oswald studied 51 previous studies which were released between 1992 and 2012. All told, these previous studies covered more than 26,000 total participants and investigated the link between the other Big Five behaviors and overall school performance as it pertained to grade point average. Each of the tests used common methods to determine the Big Five personality traits, including the NEO Personality Inventory, the NEO Five-Factor Inventory, the Big Five Inventory, Goldberg’s Unipolar Big Five Factor Markers and the Big Five International Personality Item Pool.

According to Oswald, knowing that nicer people have better grades could help colleges when deciding which students to admit. After all, colleges cannot admit students based solely on personality traits, but if these traits are associated with higher scores, admissions offices could find it worthwhile to score students on their personalities. The link between being a generally nice person and having a higher grade point average is only the first step. McAbee and Oswald now say further research should be conducted to better understand how a student’s personality can affect their performance in school.

“Grade point average is just one of many factors that can predict student performance and long-term success,” McAbee said. “We hope our findings will encourage research that investigates how different personality traits impact important outcomes.”

The study, “The Criterion-Related Validity of Personality Measures for Predicting GPA: A Meta-Analytic Validity Competition,” appears in the online edition of Psychological Assessment and is available online.

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Researchers Discover Link Between Sleep Apnea And ADHD In Children

A recent study examining the link between sleep disorders and learning disabilities shows that children with sleep disorders are more than five times more likely to be diagnosed with learning and behavioral difficulties.  The five year study focused on 6 to 11 year old Caucasian and Hispanic students, and found that sleep disorders also increased problems in the arenas of “hyperactivity, attention, disruptive behaviors, communication, social competency and self-care.”  Read on for the full story. 

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Children who suffer from one common type of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) are more likely to suffer from ADHD and other adaptive and learning problems, according to a new study appearing in the April edition of the journal SLEEP.

The five-year study utilized data from the Tucson Children’s Assessment of Sleep Apnea Study (TuCASA) — an analysis which examined the prevalence and incidence of SDB and its neurobehavioral impact on six to 11 year old Caucasian and Hispanic children – to determine that children with different types of sleep apnea were more likely to have behavioral problems.

The TuCASA study involved 263 children, each of whom completed both an overnight sleep analysis and a battery of neurobehavioral assessments, including both self-reported and parental rating scales.

The study showed that 23 of those children had incident sleep apnea which developed during the study period, 21 children suffered from persistent sleep apnea during the course of the entire study, and that 41 youngsters originally had sleep apnea but were no longer suffering from breathing problems during sleep by the five-year follow-up.

The researchers reported that children with incident sleep apnea were four to five times more likely to have behavior problems, while those with persistent sleep apnea were six times more likely to have such issues.

In addition, compared to children who had never suffered from SDB, parents of youngsters with sleep apnea were more likely to report that their kids had issues in the areas of hyperactivity, attention, disruptive behaviors, communication, social competency and self-care.

Children with persistent sleep apnea were also reportedly seven times more likely to have parent-reported learning difficulties, and three times more likely to have average or below-average grades at school (C or lower on a letter-grade scale).

“This study provides some helpful information for medical professionals consulting with parents about treatment options for children with SDB that, although it may remit, there are considerable behavioral risks associated with continued SDB,” Michelle Perfect, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the school psychology program at the University of Arizona’s department of disability and psychoeducational studies, said in a statement.

“School personnel should also consider the possibility that SDB contributes to difficulties with hyperactivity, learning and behavioral and emotional dysregulation in the classroom,” she added. “Even though SDB appears to decline into adolescence, taking a wait and see approach is risky and families and clinicians alike should identify potential treatments.”

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