Posts Tagged ‘University of Utah’

An Exemplary University

April 12, 2015

And that university would be the one that awarded me a doctorate, the University of Utah.  Of course, that is not the reason I regard the University of Utah as being an exemplary university.  My opinion is based on what I read the Spring ’15 edition of Continuum.  It was rated No. 2 by in its most recent list of the top 50 colleges nationwide for students ages 25 and older.

One of the likely reasons for this high rating could be found in a later article in the issue titled “Online.”  It is using MOOCA (see previous post) in a hybrid learning approach that includes flipped classrooms and new degrees.  They offer 478 complete online courses and1,051 online course sections.  There are 29,046 students enrolled in these online sections of which 19,573 are  totally unique.

Hybrid courses refer to “flipped classrooms”  where students can  watch short videotaped lectures and review key concepts online  while using class time to engage  in interactive problem-solving  and discussion with the professor.

When I attended college, especially when the courses where early in the morning, I took notes in my illegible handwriting and then tried to decipher  them later in the evening.  I only wish I were attending college now.  Here is a description of one online course.  It included a blog where students could compare notes.  Lectures were taught in sort 10 to 15 minute chunks that could be watched over and over again to grasps concepts. How I envy these students.  I envy not only the students, but also the teachers.  If I had these reviewable film chunks available when I was teaching, I could have critiqued my own segments.  And they would have provided hints as to why students were not getting parts of the material.

More than half of the Utah’s currently enrolled students are taking at least one class online.  This fall Utah will offer five new bachelor’s degrees that can be obtained solely online in business administration, psychology, economics, nursing, and social work.  The new degree programs  will require developing 84 new online courses over the next three years.  The University also expects to offer online master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering in 2017.

In 2012, nationally 9.9 million college students took at least one course online. 3.3 million students took all classes online.

It is good to note that the University of Utah is at the forefront of this revolution.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Frightening News from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

December 17, 2013

Many healthymemory blog posts have addressed the dangers of distracted driving (enter “driving” into the blog’s search block). This post will add to this list. More than 40% of people between 19 and 39 years old admit to texting while they drive, with 10% admitting that they do it regularly. More than half admit to talking on their cellphone while they drive. Now simply talking on the phone while driving quadraples the risk of being in a crash. The risk while texting is much greater.

Overall the survey found that 26% of the drivers admitted to texting and 6% said they did so frequently. 67% admitted to talking on their phones, 28% admitted to doing so regularly.

It has been estimated that 660,000 Americans use electronic devices while driving at any moment during the daylight hours. Although most people say that they recognize the risk posed by distracted driving, they seem to think that they are able to use their phones safely, but wish that others wouldn’t.

A key problem is “inattention blindness.” Although a driver might see something that should indicate caution, this realization doesn’t register in time for the driver to react by braking or swerving to safety. Research done by David Strayer and others at the University of Utah have found that voice activated devices that allow drivers to listen to or send text messages without touching their mobile device are not effective in reducing distraction. Their research has shown that when compared to other distractions inside the car, “interacting with the speech-to-text system was the most cognitively distracting, clearly suggesting that the adoption of voice-based systems in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety.”

There was some good news in the survey. The 16- to 18-year group talked less on the their phones while behind the wheel than any group younger than 60 and were less likely to text than drivers between the agesof 19 and 39.1

Please remember that engaging in these activities not only puts your life and health in jeopardy, but also puts the life and health of your fellow human beings in jeopardy.

1Ashley Halsey III (2013). AAA: Drivers ignore texting warnings. The Washington Post, December 17, A4.

Multi-tasking in the Automobile

June 26, 2013

This presentation was done by David L. Strayer of the University of Utah at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). His important work on multi-tasking in the automobile has been discussed in previous healthymemory blog posts. To bring you up to date, matters have gotten worse. Elaboration on this point will follow later in this blog. Strayer had video of an individual who was not only texting, but also reading on his kindle why he was driving. He had another video of a motorcyclist who was texting while riding his motorcycle in traffic!

One of the problems with multi-tasking is that people who think they are good at it are usually especially bad at it and put others at risk. Research indicates that at any time on the road about 10% of the drivers are on their phones. Research has also indicated that driving and using your cell phone degrades driving performance to the level of those who are qualified to be legally driving under the influence (BAC > 0.08 %). Statistics indicate that a driver is 2.2 times as likely to commit a traffic violation when they are on a cell phone. Hands free laws are irrelevant. This is a matter of diverting a limited supply of attention. A common statement is, “how is this any worse than speaking with the passenger who is in the car with you?” Here the critical difference is that your passenger is likely aware of the situation and can actually assist you. Strayer had videos of people in a driving simulator with a passenger and a cell phone. Their task was to exit at a specific exit. Those who had a passenger did especially well with the passenger helping them to identify the exit. However, those on a cell phone were much more prone to drive past the exit. He also had video of a driver on a cell phone driving write through a red light and crashing into another car. The reason for this is attentional blindness. Speaking on a phone takes away attention needed for driving. There is a demonstration where viewers are asked to watch a video and count the number of passes of a ball completed by people in the video. During this video a man in a gorilla suit walks across the stage. Most people watching this video miss the man in the gorilla suit because their attention is directed at the ball tossing task!

Texting while driving is even worse. If you are going to text while driving, why not just drive off the road and save the lives of those you might kill texting while driving?   Matters are getting worse. Car manufactures are placing systems in cars that allow you to review email, search the web, and compose text messages while driving. Moreover, drivers can select from options and make dinner reservations. All this crap, and I do mean crap, is being placed in new automobiles without any regard for the risks they are creating!


March 11, 2012

What is this? After a couple of blog posts on the dangers of multitasking comes a post on supertaskers? Well, the extensive research by Strayer and his colleagues at the University of Utah (my alma mater) has identified certain people as supertaskers.1 In their database of research participants, they found individuals who had virtually identical scores for doing either just one or both activities. Out of a database of 700 participants, only 19 (2.7%) met this criterion.

They did a follow up study with 16 of these supertaskers and a group of control participants matched with respect to single-task scores, working-memory capacity, gender, and age. Then they had these participants concurrently maintain and manipulate separate visual and auditory streams of information while they imaged their brains. Significant differences were found between the two groups in their patterns of neural activation. Supertaskers showed less activity during the more difficult levels of the multitasking test. The control participants showed more activity during the more difficult levels of the multitasking test. Supertaskers seemed to be able to keep their brains cool under a heavy load. Supertaskers differed most from controls in three frontal brain areas that had been identified in earlier neuropsychological research: the frontopolar prefrontal cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the anterior cingulate cortex. The researchers found that the frontopolar cortex to be the most intriguing brain region that separated the supertaskers from the controls. They said that comparative studies with humans and great apes indicate that this area is relatively larger and more richly interconnected in humans, whereas other frontal cortical areas are more equivalent in size and connectivity. They speculate that “The emergence of human’s multitasking ability, however flawed, might be a relatively recent evolutionary change in hominid brains, helping to distinguish humans from other animals. In addition, neuropsychological patients with more extensive frontopolar damage have been shown to be more impaired in multitasking”2

The authors go on to speculate about the possible role of a particular gene. They note that whether multitaskers are just an extreme on a continuum or are qualitatively different remains an open question. It should be remembered that these are supertaskers in a relative sense, that is they are supertaskers with respect to other humans. I am curious to know what happens when the total information load is increased. Does the performance of both tasks suffer equally or does the supertasker become similar to the rest of us humans, sacrificing one task for the other. I am also curious as to whether appropriate training and deliberate practice (See the healthymemory blog post, “Deliberate Practice”), more of us might become supertaskers.

As I cautionary note, I would advise against self assessments as to your supertasking abilities. Remember that those who think they are good multitaskers, tend to be the poorest multitaskers.

1Strayer, D.L., & Watson, J.M., (2012).Supertaskers and the Multitasking Brain. Scientific American Mind, March/April, 22-29.


© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Phoning and Driving Is As Dangerous as Drinking and Driving

March 7, 2012

Perhaps the multitasking that presents the most immediate risk to the most people is driving while speaking on the phone. Phoning while driving is as dangerous as driving while drunk (BAC >0.08). This has been demonstrated in David Strayer’s laboratory at the University of Utah.1 I’m especially proud as I received my doctorate from the University of Utah. His laboratory includes a sophisticated driving simulator.

It is important to realize that it is the attentional demands of phoning that distract from driving that make it dangerous. Somehow it was thought that if phoning were made hands free it would be safe. It does not, as it is just as dangerous. A recent study could not find any benefits of state laws requiring hands free phone well driving. These results were not surprising as the use of hands is irrelevant. State legislatures did a lot of work to produce a law that did not address the problem. Most people tend to be defensive and not accept this finding because it is convenient to phone and drive. For example, they might argue that they converse all the time in their cars and have yet to have an accident. There is a critical difference between conversations that take place within a car and conversations with someone in a distant location. People in the car tend to have situation awareness regarding the driving situation and can even offer help. A remote individual has no idea of what you are dealing with on the road. Or someone might argue that they sometimes have to deal with unruly children while they are driving. I am always amused when someone cites something that is just as dangerous or more dangerous for doing something dangerous. One could argue that texting while driving is more dangerous than phoning while driving, so therefore it is justified. Phoning and driving is dangerous. DON’T DO IT!

It is true that under normal driving conditions with nothing unexpected happening, it is not likely that you will have an accident. However, it is also true that most people driving with BAC’s close to the driving under the influence threshold also would be unlikely to have an accident. People with BAC’s at that level are unlikely to be found weaving across the road. It would be nice if our legal system were consistent; but it appears to be, for the most part, arbitrary.

1Strayer, D.L., & Watson, J.M., (2012).Supertaskers and the Multitasking Brain. Scientific American Mind, March/April, 22-29.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.