Studies suggest Facebook affects memorization

Junior communications major J.R. Austria checks Facebook in his photojournalism class, some- thing UCSD studies suggest could affect his ability to remember textbook material. Photo by Adam Ottke

Junior communications major J.R. Austria checks Facebook in his photojournalism class, some- thing UCSD studies suggest could affect his ability to remember textbook material. Photo by Adam Ottke

Facebook is pulling ahead in the textbook versus social media tug-of-war as students memorize status updates and forget classroom material, according to a recent research project conducted at University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

Chapman students are among many college students who remember status updates and photo uploads of their friends better than material they learn in class, which the research suggests is biological. Don Cardinal, dean of the College of Educational Studies (CES), said Chapman professors are studying how methods of teaching can progress just as quickly as technology, and that students should also focus on how it affects their learning.

“Students should take this seriously and focus on the learning theory behind it,” Cardinal said. “We remember what our brains can connect to. Piaget described it as hooks in the brain on which new information can hang. No hooks, low memory. Many hooks, high memory.”

The UCSD study was conducted by Laura Mickes, doctoral alumna of UC San Diego’s department of psychology and UCSD psychology professors Christine Harris and Nicholas Christenfeld. The trio gave 280 students a series of Facebook posts and pictures, and compared them with textbook sentences no longer than 25 words. The students were then asked to pick any sentence out of the previous set of data, and were evaluated on their degree of certainty.

The research debuted in the Los Angeles Times Jan. 16, and showed that each group was able to recall more information from Facebook posts than remember the faces they had also examined.

Cardinal said Chapman professors are studying how to communicate with students in a way that is as memorable as social networking information.

“Our faculty in the CES use cooperative groups, varying sources of visual input and tell stories that communicate the main message,” Cardinal said. “Some are able to say complex things as everyday language. All of these are similar forms of the Facebook phenomenon.”

Assistant professor of communication studies Veronica Hefner said it’s the younger generation’s small attention spans that make short and personal snippets of information more compelling to read and remember than classroom texts.

“We are moving into a microwave age, in which little bits of content are more attractive for shrinking attention spans,” Hefner said.

Hefner said educational forums could also be easily memorable if presented in a similar fashion.

“Textbooks can be memorable if the format includes frequent side notes and text boxes, in addition to fun and interesting facts that can help explain some of the deeper concepts,” Hefner said.

Brenner Spear, sophomore computer information systems and business major, said the study reflects the disconnect Chapman students face between their digital generation and the classroom.

“I think a lot of it would have to do with the difference in formatting and delivery,” Spear said. “Go open a textbook. It’s a fat rectangle of text and you can easily read the whole thing while thinking about something else.”

Spear said it’s also the brevity of Facebook posts that makes them easier to memorize.

“Posts on Facebook are short and to the point, and are formatted in a way that you can absorb the entire post in under a second,” he said.

Freshman undeclared major Garrett Aanestad said because the bits of information on Facebook are so easily absorbed compared to classroom material, he has never used his laptop during class.

“I prefer to handwrite notes,” Aanestad said. “I use Facebook usually right before or after class so I don’t get distracted from learning.”

However, Spear said knowing about studies like this doesn’t convince her to log out during class.

“I would never get rid of my Facebook in order to improve my memorizing and learning,” Spear said. “It’s too much a part of my life. If I have the opportunity to use my computer in class, I always find myself on Facebook. Two clicks and I’m there.”


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