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2017

Students will be arriving back on campus over the next few weeks, and many will be coming in to the 2017 - 2018 school year with thoughts and questions about distressing recent events in national and local news. One way to help students process these events is to discuss them as a group in class. While it can be daunting to bring hot-button topics into the class environment, chances are high that these topics are already weighing on students’ minds and students will want to talk about them. Allowing students to express their thoughts and questions among their peers will help them develop the skills they will need to participate in ongoing discussions and debate outside of class.

 

These conversations also present an opportunity for students to practice their media literacy and research skills, which will lead to more informed discussions with fact-based support. Leaders of The Choices Program, an educational nonprofit at Brown University, note that tying curriculum to current events “prepares students to become more informed and engaged citizens.” By sharing their personal experiences and stories, these conversations also have the potential to help students recognize how these issues impact people from different racial, economic, and social backgrounds. That being said, it can still be a challenge for instructors to begin such discussions in the classroom – here are some suggestions for getting started.

 

Prepare students for the discussion beforehand.

 

Despite these clear benefits to discussing current topics in the classroom, it is also important to remember that these issues will impact students in different ways. If you suspect a student might have a particularly strong emotional response to the topic, talk with them and help them prepare for it beforehand (or give them the chance to opt out). Another approach would be to inform all students of the upcoming discussion beforehand, so that concerned students may discuss it with you privately. This tactic also gives students the opportunity to research the topic beforehand, so that they may practice finding reputable sources and using those sources to support their viewpoints. Consider asking students to write down what they know and what questions they have beforehand, so that their responses might help you decide how to frame the conversation.

 

Create a safe, supportive, and respectful classroom environment.

 

For any conversations on an uncomfortable topic, it is imperative that all students feel that their thoughts and feelings are respected, and that they have an equal chance to share. On the day of the discussion, have the class create a set of ground rules that will allow them to share their perspectives without fear of judgment, interruption, or rebuke. Examples of potential ground rules include “One mic” (one person at a time), “I statements” (saying “I feel that” instead of “You’re wrong because”), and “Step up step back” (pay attention to how much space you’re taking up in the conversation and adjust as necessary). Once the students have agreed to the ground rules, ensure that they remember to uphold these rules, and address any violations immediately. In the article “10 Ways to Talk to Students About Sensitive Issues in the News,” Jinnie Spiegler from The Learning Network recommends that instructors encourage students to talk openly about their feelings in the discussion, and to occasionally check the emotional “temperature” of the room. These talks can become very personal and cause intense emotional reactions, which can be helped with a safe, open, and respectful classroom environment.

 

Determine your role and prepare accordingly.

 

Many instructors struggle with the ethics of sharing their own personal and political beliefs with their students, especially during group discussions. Therefore, some might decide not to participate in the conversation at all. Others might play the role of a moderator, facilitating while not participating in the discussion. A moderator has the ability to steer the conversation away from off-topic threads, remind students to keep the conversation respectful, and make sure that the discussion is productive with equal chances for all to contribute. Some might choose to answer questions as they come up or clarify misconceptions when necessary, and some will participate fully in the dialogue. Regardless of the role you choose to play, it is important to research the topic fully beforehand so that you can participate, respond, or clarify if needed. Instructors are not immune to these topics and may have an emotional response of their own; if you feel that you might have such a reaction, prepare yourself beforehand in the same way that you might help a concerned student prepare. Along with the links posted at the bottom, there are various resources available either in print or online to help you with these types of discussions. Finally, remember that while these conversations are uncomfortable, by addressing them head-on, your students will be better prepared to engage in public conversations going forward, and may even start to challenge their own biases and assumptions as a result.

 

Questions: How do you teach current events in the classroom? Do you host a group discussion, create lectures, or show news clips or other videos?

 

Resources

10 Ways to Talk to Students about Sensitive Issues in the News

Uncomfortable Conversations: Tools to Teach Current Events and Controversial Issues

 

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It is 11pm on a Tuesday night. Tomorrow morning is the big presentation you have been preparing weeks for and you make moves for an early bedtime. You set the alarm on your phone and plop right into bed. The room is nearly pitch black as you begin shutting your eyes. You are on your way into rem sleep when suddenly...vzzzzzzt; a notification illuminates the room with a piercing flash of light. Fully awakened and tempted, you check that notification of a snapchat. But a snapchat turns into a google search, then a twitter check, an instagram gander, and before you know it, it’s 3am and you’re editing your Facebook profile picture.

 

Many young adults and teenagers have fallen prey to my own device-- it’s the Black Mirror Effect.

 

While the Black Mirror Effect is something I merely coined based off the technological dystopian British program Black Mirror, it describes our society’s current dilemma; we have become entranced by technology and slaves to our screens.

 

Here are some statistics:

  • 95% of all teens (13-17 years of age) are actively online.
  • In 2016, 81% of online teens have some sort of social media account, which is up from 55% in 2006.
  • According to a recent study by the UK disability charity Scope, of 1500 Facebook and Twitter users surveyed, 62% reported feeling inadequate and 60% reported feelings of jealousy when comparing themselves to other users.

 


 

 

Online games, dating apps, and social media in particular have negative effects on the happiness of Millennials and Generation Z. The increasing number of depressed,sleep deprived hypertexters measuring their self-worth by a Facebook post is frightening.  Adam Alter, social psychologist and author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, mentions the effects of addiction on social media usage.

 

Featured in a recent TED Talk, Alter explains why screens do not make us happy. The info graphic below (taken from Alter’s TED Talk) shows how the average work day is organized into time spent on our daily activities. The red space in the personal section represents the amount of time we spend on screens during personal time and how it has increased in just ten years time. According to this chart, screen time has consumed almost our entire personal time.

 

 

 

Now do not misunderstand, screens are not the bane of existence. Screens have revolutionized the world. Calling friends and loved ones over video chats was not possible a few years back and today, we have opportunities to see a familiar face or “attend” an event. It’s quite incredible that our devices can function as a remote, open your car, act as a GPS, count your steps, and even check your heart rate! There’s power in revolution, but the problem with too much power is the lack of self-control.

 

The true culprit behind these addictive behaviors is a common feature on many social media apps--endless scrolling. As Adam Alter suggests, with the lack of stopping cues we have the ability to indulge ourselves into an infinite amount of scrolling. Without an endpoint, it is difficult to determine where and when to stop at any given moment.

 

So how can we put a cap on screen usage? Is legislation over the top? Believe it or not, there is indeed legislation dubbed “Cinderella Laws” already proposed and up for debate in South Korea and China. While that is still just a debate, what can YOU do now? Here are a few thoughts to consider:

 

  • Put it on airplane mode. That way notifications, texts, and emails are not on the radar.
  • When going to an event, such as a concert or festival, keep your phone in your bag. Challenge yourself to not snapchat or “go live” while you are at these events. Just live the experience without your phone.
  • Pick a time of day not to pull your phone out. Dinner time would be a great opportunity to put the phone down.
  • Set time restraints. If 11pm is your bedtime, 9:59pm should be the last minute your thumbs touch that screen.
  • Get an alarm clock. It may be “old school” nowadays but using your phone as a bedtime alarm can prompt temptation. Nothing wrong with a good old fashion alarm clock!

 

There is bliss in unplugging yourself from the digital world and, as I have learned through my nights of sleep deprivation, getting a full eight hours will not only save you from dark circles and zombie eyes, but you’ll ace that big presentation, improve your mental health, and open yourself up to "screenless" experiences. Go live without your phone, and live your life through your own eyes.

 

 

Resources

 

Abrams, Allison. “Mental Health and the Effects of Social Media.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 5 Mar. 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/nurturing-self-compassion/201703/mental-health-and-the-effects-social-media. Accessed 21 Aug. 2017.

 

Alter, Adam. “Why our screens make us less happy.” YouTube, uploaded by TED, 1 August 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=0K5OO2ybueM.

 

Cottle, Julia. “Facebook and Mental Health: Is Social Media Hurting or Helping?” Mental Help, 15 Mar. 2016. www.mentalhelp.net/articles/facebook-and-mental-health-is-social-media-hurting-or-helping. Accessed 21 Aug. 2017.

 

Dreifus, Claudia. “Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens.” The New York Times, 6 Mar. 2017. www.nytimes.com/2017/03/06/science/technology-addiction-irresistible-by-adam-alter.html. Accessed 21 Aug. 2017.

 

MacMillan, Amanda . “Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health.” Time, 25 May 2017. www.time.com/4793331/instagram-social-media-mental-health/. Accessed 21 Aug. 2017.

 

 

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As the end of summer quickly approaches, many colleges will soon start their fall semesters. Some students may be returning back for another year at school, while others will begin as freshmen in the fall. On the first day of classes, students and professors alike may feel a variety of different emotions ranging from nervousness to excitement and everything in between.

 

To deal with these emotions and others, it’s important for students and professors to set clear goals to help them get through the semester. Through personal experience, I find that when I write out my academic goals for myself and keep the list in an accessible place to refer back to, I am more likely to actually achieve my goals. For professors, it might be harder to balance the responsibilities of teaching multiple classes and interacting with students, while also trying to reach the targets they set for themselves.

 

For the upcoming semester, I have personally set goals for myself and have expectations to complete them all. One goal I would like to make happen is to engage more with professors to benefit from their extensive knowledge and really learn from them. In the past, I haven’t tried to make strong relationships with professors because I focused more on balancing my social life with finishing coursework on time. Throughout the semester I will occasionally glance over my list of goals to make sure I keep working towards completing them. At the very end of the semester, I will go through my goals one more time to see which ones I was able to achieve. If I didn’t do something I would’ve liked to do, I will put it on my list for the next semester and continue to work at becoming a better student.

 

On the first day of class, it may be a good idea to set aside time during class for students to set goals for themselves. Setting goals will encourage students to strive to do their best right from the start of the semester. Another useful tip for professors is to have students make another list with specific things that they would like to get out of the class and any teaching techniques they would like the professor to use. Professors can collect the lists from students to develop their own objectives for the semester according to their own needs as well as their students’ needs.

 

As an instructor, do you set goals for yourself at the beginning of each semester?

What are some of the goals you set?

How do you stay on track to achieve your goals throughout the semester?

Do you have any tips for professors or students on what types of goals they should set or how to achieve their goals?

 

 

About the Author

Danielle Straub is the Communication Editorial intern this summer at Macmillan. She is a rising junior at Hunter College in New York City. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English, Danielle plans to go into publishing when she finishes college. Danielle enjoys spending her time traveling, cooking, reading, and volunteering.

 

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Whether or not you watch Game of Thrones, you probably already know that the seventh season of the action-packed fantasy returned last month (to record-breaking ratings, no less). Maybe your friends held a viewing party, or posted about it on social media, or slipped “Winter is coming” somewhere into a recent conversation. Even if you’re behind on the show (three seasons behind, in my case), it’s unlikely that you’ll have to wait long before the events of the current season come to your attention (curse you, spoilers!).

 

In an age where countless varieties of television shows are available for your entertainment in a growing array of mediums – like Netflix, DVR, and various online streaming platforms – it’s rare to find one single show that captures such massive appeal and has an audience dedicated enough to tune in every week. Game of Thrones manages both, drawing in 16.1 million total viewers for the seventh season premiere, which includes 10.1 million who watched on the linear channel as the show aired (Variety). While not the only example of “consensus” or “appointment-viewing” television left, it is currently the strongest, growing in its last few seasons while other examples Scandal and The Walking Dead have seen viewership drop off (TIME).

 

Why, then, has Thrones been able to command not just viewers’ attention, but also their Sunday nights? Is it just the merit of the show itself, or is there a social aspect to it as well?

 

Game of Thrones is a prime example of communal TV - shows most enjoyed when we share them with others. Methods of sharing a TV viewing experience include physical watch parties or social media shares - Thrones fans use both.

 

In fact, so many people participate in Game of Thrones parties that The New York Times recently published an article asking “How Quiet Should You Be During ‘Game of Thrones’?”. Reactions from fans were mixed, preferring either total silence, some chatter during unimportant or dialogue-light scenes, and free talking throughout. Some fans need to fully immerse themselves in the show by watching it alone first, and others need to watch with others so that they can ask questions when they lose track of the plot. Fans from both sides cited “the shared experience” as part of their rationale, so which is it? Does the shared experience refer to quietly watching a show as a group, or does it mean talking as a group while watching a television show?

 

If you prefer to watch alone, you can still participate in the communal viewing experience through social media. Here, fans can share their opinions, reactions, and thoughts on the show without having others physically present. In an attempt to increase ratings, many shows have started to encourage (spoiler-free) live-blogging and live-tweeting by having cast and crew members participate. With Game of Thrones, it feels inevitable that as soon as an episode airs, the internet will become a minefield of spoilers for anyone who dares to watch the show later.

 

And that, in part, explains why Game of Thrones is one of the last appointment-viewing shows on television. Because of the communal experience, fans are all but required to view the show each Sunday night when it airs, either because they have agreed to watch with someone else or because they want to avoid having the episode spoiled ahead of time. While spoilers are difficult to avoid for most television shows, it’s particularly risky with Game of Thrones, where dramatic plot twists and power plays are infinitely more enjoyable to fans who didn’t see them coming.

 

                  

Spoilers on Game of Thrones are so hard to avoid that Stephen Colbert introduced the “Spoiler-Proof Bucket” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. All you have to do is wear it on your head and you’ll be spoiler-free! (Image from www.cbs.com)

 

Overall, Game of Thrones is a fun show to watch with others – either electronically or in person – for a variety of reasons. With a large cast of characters to root for (or against), the frequent plot twists and shifting power dynamics compel viewers to tune in week-to-week. As someone planning to catch up to the show this month (to join a viewing party, of course), all I can say is: winter is coming, and it’s bringing communal television back with it.

 

Questions:

  •     Do you watch Game of Thrones? If so, how do you watch it? Alone, with a group? Do you post your thoughts on social media?
  •     How do you think the communal viewing experience differs from the individual viewing experiences? Does it increase your enjoyment of the show, or decrease it?

 

 

 

‘Game of Thrones’ Season 7 Premiere Shatters HBO Ratings Records | Variety 

Game of Thrones' New Finale Record Proves It's Consensus TV | Time.com  

How Quiet Should You Be During ‘Game of Thrones’? Fans Disagree - The New York Times