A Generation Addicted to Social Media Gets Schooled on the iPhone

A recent entry from Inside Higher Ed highlights an interesting study from the University of Maryland concerning social media and students. The study asked 200 university students to abstain from any and all social media for a twenty-four hour period; meaning no Facebook, Twitter, Skype, nada. When polling students’ about the grand social experiment, participants described going through “withdrawal”, “frantically craving” social outlets, feeling “very anxious and extremely antsy, miserable, jittery and crazy” about a lack of virtual interaction.

Psychologists note that such language mirrored the terms usually used by drug and alcohol addicts when they first experience withdraw. So perhaps parents and teachers’ complaints that students today are “addicted” to the computer and social media is (somewhat) warranted. The International Center for Media, who conducted the study along with the Public Agenda at the University of Maryland – College Park, concluded that young people today “see social media as key to their relationships with others.” Students loathed the idea of being disconnected from family and friends and from knowing what was happening between others.

Another recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project says that teens would rather text than talk—even on the phone. They’ll text their friend in the same room rather than converse about a mutual friends’ latest twitter tweet. Most parents—or anyone who’s spent ample time around teens—knows this to be fairly true. While college students operate similarly, it seems the trend is even more ingrained for the 13-18 year old crowd; for unlike many of the previous generation who got cell phones when they started driving or thereabouts, kids today often inherit cell phones long before their teen years commence.

Given the upcoming generation’s obsession with virtual communication, it isn’t surprising that major universities are offering classes in iphone/ipad/ipod application development. Yep, that’s correct: courses specifically geared to create more bells and whistles for every “i” related gadget. The New York Times reports that Stanford University introduced a popular course in the Fall of 2008 on developing applications and technology for the most popular of Apple handhelds: the iPhone. Often taught by developing experts who work for/with Apple, the course provides potential-programmers and developers the technological grail: insight into how Apple really works.

What’s even greater is that lectures are available online at iTunesU. Because of copyright issues with the iPad, this Spring’s lectures aren’t updated, but usually the most recent lectures appear a few days after their live delivery. Online students do not have access to office hours or the ability to barrage instructors with questions; however, they can download lecture pdf files which include bullet point outlines and slides to supplement the audio podcast.

According to the Times, this has become the primary way to learn about iPhone development. Graduates of Stanford’s course have birthed apps such as Air Guitar and Site Saver. Both retail for $2 at Apple’s App store (stanfordiphoneclassapps.com)—not too shabby considering there’s no real cost in buying/crafting physical materials.

Other national universities are not only offering similar courses to its ground students, but they’re partnering with students to create in-house, school-specific apps. The University of Maryland’s Mobility Initiative and Depauw University offer computer science classes to help students develop and program software for apple products.

The rise in these type of courses, where students design applications for their fellow classmates, has given rise to even more collaborative approaches for incorporating technology in the classroom. By polling students about what IT needs and wants they and their classmates have, schools can partner with students to actualize the students’ suggestions and ideas. By incorporating such popular technology in the classroom, schools help make education both relatable and modern while also empowering the students who take part in the creation process.

Given this pattern, it might be fathomable that someday they’ll incorporate video games into physics courses and—dare we say—student-designed courses? Who knows.

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