Digital Devices

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The UnTech Election

It is almost the end of 2020 and while technology seems even more tightly woven into our lives, the election has shown that there are still times when it is essentially irrelevant. Let’s face it, most American voting systems use old technology if they use technology at all, and the (permanent record) pieces of paper scrutinized by so many diligent vote counters all worked pretty well, even if it seemed a bit slow. Technology can be an incredibly useful tool, but it has drawbacks and may not always be the answer to everything.

Do You or Your Kids Have a Mental Health Playlist?

Many of us look to find things that will help us find our happy place, and music streaming service Spotify announced recently that many people are using their service to do just that, by creating their own mental health playlist. Spotify has seen a 57% increase in streams related to “mindfulness,” “calm” and “self-care” since last year. Podcasts related to self-help and self-care also saw a dramatic bump on the platform, with a whopping 122-percent increase in streams. 

Of course, what exactly constitutes a “mental health playlist” is slightly less clear. Every mind is different — both when it comes to personal taste and actual brain chemistry — and what one person finds relaxing another may find to be grating. Some people may turn to guided meditation to unwind, while others may gravitate toward a playlist of soothing new-age ones from the likes of Enya and Yanni. Maybe ambient instrumentals are what get you feeling Zen, while death metal might feel like a cathartic release to someone else. Still, having a mental health playlist is one way your digital devices could add calm to your life.

The Effects of Ditching a Cellphone

Every stop to wonder what it might be like as a parent to give up your cellphone? Here is an article with a great account of what happens when a parent chooses to "unbundle" all the things for which they normally rely on a smartphone. Anyone with a smartphone would be wise to do a weekly or monthly check of the device's activity tracker. Seeing how you spend your time can be an eye-opener and, if needed, motivate you to embrace healthier habits.

The Challenges of Remote Learning

The challenges of remote learning are taking a variety of twists and turns for school districts. One Florida district even went as far as to create an "Online Netiquette" video for parents and students to address unexpected online behavior by parents, such as advising them to be fully dressed if they will be seen on camera. The district has listed a number of struggles they have been dealing with as well, including technical difficulties that eat into teacher’s class time and prep, challenges teaching students with disabilities in a remote platform, and concerns about cheating.

What Does an Uptick in Child Screen Time Indicate?

A spike in screen time among children during the coronavirus pandemic is tied to a lack of childcare and family stress, according to a study by researchers at Boston College and the University of Maryland. Researchers also found that levels of screen time among children can serve "as an index of family distress”.

Voice Assistants to Detect Illnesses?

Imagine a day when Siri or Alexa might be able to let you know you have a cold -- or something worse -- coming on. Researchers are working on a tool that leverages machine learning to detect irregularities in a person's voice that can be linked to certain ailments. The "diagnosis" isn't designed to be definitive, just more of a nudge to seek additional medical care. Privacy concerns abound, but a tool like this makes sense. Who/What has a better gauge on your current health? A doctor you haven't seen in months, or a virtual assistant that can track your movements, monitor your sleep and listen to your every cough and sneeze?

Will Virtual Students Be Left Behind in Hybrid Education Model?

Students who are sticking with distance learning while some of their classmates return to school may be missing out, as teachers have less time for Zoom sessions and other remote instruction activities, some parents and educators say. Parent Jessica Savage says her son, who is in special education, has struggled with reduced interaction with his class, and school board president Michelle Fullhart says that she is concerned about equity for students who remain 100% virtual.

WebCam Requirements – Could Relaxing Them Help Some Students Learn?

Many schools are requiring that students have their webcams on for remote learning, but some kids would benefit from a relaxed policy, some educators and parents say. Students can view themselves as well as their classmates and may become self-conscious, for example, and may be better able to focus with the camera off, asserts Erika Bocknek, a Wayne State University associate professor of educational psychology. This web cam approach to learning may be keeping kids safe from getting COVID-19, but it doesn’t come without its own set of new concerns, including privacy, equity and bullying.

Why is Online Learning so Tiring?

Learning online can cause students to feel anxious, worried or tired – something being called "Zoom fatigue" -- says Brenda Wiederhold, a licensed clinical psychologist. As it turns out, live Zoom calls aren’t as live as we think they are. In an interview, Wiederhold says that our brains pick up on the fact that what is happening in a Zoom call is delayed -even if for just a millisecond – and our brains look for a way to overcome the lack of synchrony. There is also a tendency to multitask as we are always looking around the screen, searching people’s faces for cues as to how they are feeling or what they might be thinking. All these heads floating on the screen can also trigger a type of fight-or-flight response in the brain.

Too Much Communication? Some Ideas

Zoom calls, Slack pings and email, tweet and social media notifications… they can all drag down productivity. While an article from Fast Company  outlines 4 things you can do to better manage cascading amounts of communication is written from a business perspective, there are still some lessons here for all of us, including children, on becoming more conscious of how we are using and overusing our digital devices.