Between replying to friends on Snapchat, scrolling through a personalized TikTok “For You” page and checking out what people are posting on Instagram, it can be easy for students to rack up long hours of screen time.
While an occasional scroll can be an acceptable way to get a break from studying, getting distracted by social media content can happen frequently. With finals week quickly approaching, learning ways to curb social media and technology use can be extremely helpful in ensuring test material is learned and retained.
Susan Swearer is the chair of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and she said it is important for students to learn to balance the many positive aspects of social media with the negative.
“It’s not all bad. Social media is a nice way to connect with students,” Swearer said. “I know a lot of faculty who use social media, in different applications, to kind of connect with their students and help students engage with the material.”
Swearer said that the problem with social media comes when it is used in excess. Because students use technology for school, communication, work and many other parts of life, their brains get used to the fast-paced environment and begin to crave it. Social media provides that pace along with notifications that feel rewarding to the brain. When students begin to overuse social media, it can distract from other things they need to work on.
“When students are not focused on studying and minimizing distractions, they just don’t retain information as well,” Swearer said. “So I always recommend that when students are studying that they turn their phones off and they try to have minimal distractions.”
Swearer said she suggested students try keeping track of their social media usage. Doing homework and going on social media in designated increments can be a successful way to get work done.
“They can keep track of how much time they’re spending, and so just being mindful, looking at the clock and saying ‘okay, it’s ten o’clock, I’m going to check my social media accounts for 15 minutes and then I'm going to turn it off,’” Swearer said.
Another way to slow compulsive use of social media is to devote time to other activities that don’t require technology use. If students are using technology for a long period of time, Swearer said she recommends they take a break and go on a walk without looking at their phone.
Cole McCormack, sophomore business management major, said this is now a common practice in his life. Rather than scrolling on social media, he has started to invest time into more productive things.
“I can scroll through social media for hours, or I can go to the gym, play basketball with my friends or work on homework,” McCormack said. “Those things make me feel like I'm actually doing something important.”
This semester, McCormack said he noticed negative effects brought on by social media. He said that when social media was making it hard for him to focus on school work, he knew he had to make a change.
“Social media gets in the way of me focusing on my studies and making sure I get my schoolwork done, which is difficult enough,” McCormack said. “I decided to turn off my notifications, and it helped me sit down and get all my work done without having to stop every few minutes to look at my phone.”
While McCormack only recently started making these changes, he has already noticed a difference in his life.
“Now that I've distanced myself from social media, it really made me step back and think about why I'm actually using the apps,” McCormack said. “Doing other things with my life seems so much more important now.”
Swearer said that like McCormack, all students should take the time to reflect on the presence of social media in their lives. With finals week approaching, students can benefit from reevaluating their usage.
“Being aware and monitoring are important,” Swearer said. “Self-awareness is important for everybody, and it’s important to kind of think about how we spend our time.”