The Science of Learning: What Works

12319-v1-490x By Paula MacLeod, iMedia 2014-2015 The iMedia program involves an incredible amount of work—reading, writing, developing projects. I know we all have expressed being stressed because we just don’t know how we can get it all done. But when it comes to learning, we may be able to apply some simple strategies to make learning new things easier. A recent Science Friday episode seemed tailor-made for our iMedia class. The topic was To Master Test Material, Give Your Brian a Break. The guest panelists were Barbara Oakley, author of “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)”, Benedict Carey, author of “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When Where and Why it Happens”, and AnnMarie Thomas, author of “Making Makers: Kids, Tools and the Future of Innovation. Contrary to my own inclination to power through everything, the science of learning proves that giving your self a break helps your brain process information. Other great tips for learning that were discussed are:

  • A nap is not just an hour or two of lost study time; sleep actually enhances learning.
  • Daydreaming and distraction are good ways to generate creative solutions to difficult problems.
  • Breaking up study times across days and weeks beats cramming, even when the total study time is the same.
  • Mixing up your environment, by trying a new cafe or new music on your earphones, works better than serving time in a library carrel.

And while one obviously needs to focus in order to learn something, that’s only part of what works for learning. We also learn through a “diffuse mode,” where a variety of operations are activated in the brain. The brain switches back and forth between these modes regularly. What’s important about the diffuse mode is that when you are focusing, you are actually blocking the diffuse mode. “And the diffuse mode,” says Barbara Oakley, “it turns out, is what you often need to be able to solve a very difficult, new problem.” She uses pin ball as a metaphor for how the brain learns. As for the stress and work load, time management is a must, but another point discussed was the value of exercise. Exercise isn’t only good for your heart and muscles, but improves learning on three levels: It optimizes your mindset, by improving alertness, attention, and motivation. It prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for learning new information. And it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain related to memory and learning. While knowing these things won’t lighten our load, we can take a walk, let our minds wander and know that we are still learning.

iPhone 6, Dreadlocks, and the Power of iMedia

By Henry Kean, iMedia 2014-2015

As the tech community was recently set ablaze with the announcement of the new iPhone and Apple Watch, the iMedia students were assigned to read Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget. While most readings thus far have described the incredible benefits technology and new media have provided society, Lanier tells a cautionary tale that warns of the potentially disastrous direction we are moving. At first it felt bizarre to read a book that, in some ways, bashes the fields and professions many of us are pursuing, but it also had a very refreshing and empowering effect.


Jaron Lanier opposes previous readings, but empowers the students.

Jaron Lanier opposes previous readings, but empowers the students.

As a psychology major in undergrad, I am new to almost everything that has been discussed in our classes so far. And as someone who grew up in a house with no cell service, and spent my summers at a camp where any technology outside of a headlamp was banned and the Internet was non-existent, I have always been a little weary of new technology. For example, while watching my fellow classmates hoot and holler about the incredible new Apple Watch, I couldn’t help but wonder how that will get in the way of face to face interactions. I agree technology can be a wonderful tool, but I also side with Lanier, that maybe things are starting to get out of hand in some aspects. If a friend is trying to have a serious conversation with me, and my wrist is buzzing and beeping, there is no way I can give that person what they need in that moment.


If it is not apparent, I was eating up what Lanier was laying down. I agreed with almost everything he was saying and felt like someone actually understood where I was coming from. But then I asked myself: Why is the guy who basically invented virtual reality discrediting his own field? Why am I getting so excited that he is discrediting the field I have chosen to pursue? And what in the world is that instrument he’s playing? As it turns out, I was falling victim to a psychological term called confirmation bias where you seek out sources that validate your feelings or opinions and ignore ones that are in opposition. I have studied how dangerous this phenomenon can be – even fatal in some cases – and once I realized what was happening, I quickly took a step back and reevaluated the situation.


I soon discovered that I was seeing the situation all wrong. Lanier wasn’t saying that new media and technologies are some sort of dastardly villain, nor was Professor Lackaff trying to play some sick joke to make us feel like we had taken the wrong life path. Instead, it was a charge, a sort of call to arms as we begin to grow and develop into interactive media professionals. When we come out of this program, we will be in charge of creating and distributing content to the world. Content that has become extremely important and influential in today’s society. According to Lanier, in some ways, we aren’t just learning to code a website or computer program. We’re not merely making videos and designing content. We’re learning skills to take the reigns of the digital world and drive it in any direction we choose.


While graduation may still be a long ways off, it is really inspiring to know that we are gaining the ability to go into a field that can enact huge societal change if we so choose. Sure, it may start slowly with a goofy resume project where the top of your head pops off, but this program is teaching us to apply what we’re learning in the classroom to our future, professional lives (or this really great blog post) and can be seen in previous classes’ capstone projects. But before I get too ahead of myself, I have to make it through Professor Lackaff’s literature review.


Finding Direction

By Marianne Brigola, Comm Career Advisor

compassAs you’ve been reading in the fantastic blog posts from our current iMedia students, the fall semester is in full swing over here at Elon. Students are in the midst of class, homework and also figuring out what they want to do with their Interactive Media degree. Everyone is different–there are students who know exactly what it is they want to do after graduation and others who are still exploring different industries and jobs.

I’ve already met with several iMedia students to start helping them plan for their job search in the spring. If you’re still trying to figure out how you want to use your new interactive media skills and knowledge, there are two things you need to do: Research + Network

1. Research. Our graduates go on to work in so many different industries with a variety of roles. Some are in client services roles, others on the creative side. Some work in marketing, others work freelance. A few ago, Katie wrote a blog post about our 2014 graduates and some of the great work they’re doing.

Here are a few other websites that can help you start learning more about titles + their job descriptions:

In addition to researching job titles, you should be researching industries and companies. Would you prefer to work in marketing, or advertising, or public relations? Is a smaller, start-up agency your dream organization or would you like to work for a larger, more established firm? If you’re targeting a specific city after graduation–what companies are located in that city? A quick Google search can help you start building a list of potential target organizations.

2. Network. We talk a lot about how important networking is as a job search strategy–and it’s also important to help you figure out what you’re going to do next in your career! You can learn a lot about a company or a job by looking at their website or reading a job description, but you won’t learn if it’s a good fit for you until you actually talk to someone working at that organization or doing that type of work. LinkedIn makes it so easy for you to find alumni or contacts in a particular industry or job role. Elon University has over 19,000 students + alumni on LinkedIn. That’s 19,000 contacts you could potentially reach out to!  If you’re just getting started on LinkedIn, check LinkedIn’s tips for getting your profile set up.

Don’t forget to go outside of the digital world too–follow up with guest speakers from classes, attended conferences and expos, participate in local meet ups or networking events. The Triangle American Marketing Association and the Triangle Interactive Marketing are examples of two local professional associations that host many networking and educational events in the area several times a year.

Researching potential career options and networking with professionals are the two key things to helping you determine what you’re going to do with your interactive media degree after graduation! Start now to help you focus your job search in the spring. –MA

Pecha Kucha: Your New Style of Presentation

The first big hurdle of the iMedia program is over!

iMedia ’15 has submitted annotated bibliographies and the first draft of research papers, which are (hopefully) about the topic we want to pursue for our capstone projects, are due in a week and a half. In the meantime, Pecha Kucha presentations began in Dr. Derek Lackaff’s class, Theory and Audience Analysis in an Interactive Age.

Pecha Kucha is a concise presentation style that’s made up of 20 slides that advance automatically every 20 seconds and you talk along to the slides, for a total of six minutes and forty seconds. The format sounds a little intimidating to keep all of your information in such a short amount of time for each slide, but the first set of seven presenters all did a great job handling the pressure. All students in Lackaff’s class are required to prepare a Pecha Kucha presentation on a course-relevant topic that goes beyond the assigned reading and their research topics “to present a coordinated and interesting treatment of the subject under investigation.” Students are graded on topic choice, expertise, organization, evidence-based argumentation, visual clarity, visual aesthetics, time management, professionalism and engagement.

The first week’s topics were Beauty Vlogging on YouTube, Fantasy Football, Bitcoin, 3D Printing, The Power of Video, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and Near Field Communication (NFC). The class live tweeted during the presentations using the Twitter hash tag “#pktheory” making the presentations very interactive. Some iMedia students’ tweets were retweeted and favorited by companies and profiles related to the topic.

Pecha Kucha presentations will continue for the next four weeks until Lackaff’s class ends before fall break. I am looking forward to seeing the upcoming presentations and learning about the new topics that my classmates have managed to become experts in on top of all the other work we have to do this semester.

iMedia Provides Students with Marketable Workplace Skills

The iMedia program is in full swing and loaded with exciting, yet tedious projects. In just our third week of classes we are submitting art in the form of self portraits, coding an online resume and preparing resources for an upcoming research paper. Along with these projects, we are learning about different typefaces and much to our dismay, learning JavaScript. We are accepting the fact that our lives now consist of little or no down time. As soon as we finish one project, we must begin another one.

In all of this chaos, I am slowly starting to realize how far we have come since we all met each other a few weeks ago. Coming from many different backgrounds, we are now on our way to becoming competent in many different areas of multimedia. Many of us have already started thinking about our future after the program. We all wonder what jobs will come our way this time next year. None of us are sure what our future holds, except for all of the late nights spent working on projects.

The variety of different jobs that iMedia alumni currently have is staggering. This list is not just limited to a few job titles, but a wide range of titles from UX designer, multimedia coordinator to project manager. It seems as though we are being prepared to enter an exciting industry where every student will be able to find a job doing something we are passionate about. The iMedia program is teaching us how to become extremely marketable once we graduate. The extremely high rate of employment (92% within four months of graduation) from previous classes is a testament to this.

I decided to reach out to a few alumni to see how the iMedia program helped them market themselves to prospective employers. Carolyn Frazier, a Senior Project Manager at Smashing Boxes and an iMedia ’11 alum explained, “The [iMedia] program taught me enough to get started and then let me learn on my own in a structured way. I got to build a website for an actual client from the ground up – design, content planning, development, and even some video production.” These are many of the skills that our future employers will be looking for us to possess.

Carolyn also added, “That experience really prepared me for working in an agency setting after graduation.” This is a great testament to how the iMedia program can jumpstart an amazing career in the creative industry. I am extremely excited to see our skill set continue to grow over the next few months. Each of these skills we learn continue to lead us towards something great. We are setting ourselves up for multiple employment opportunities after graduation, and I cannot wait to see what future jobs we will hold.

Welcome Class of 2015!

I know this post is a little late, but I wanted the chance to officially welcome the class of 2015.

Just when I thought I was really getting to know the class of 2014, they went an graduated on me. While recruiting last year, I had a chance to get to know a fanatic new crop of iMedia students, class of 2015! I know this post is a little late, but I wanted the chance to officially welcome them.

Before I start talking about iMedia ’15, I want to congratulate the class of 2014 on many successful job hunts. The class has been busy searching for their dream job since graduating in late May. I wanted to share a few examples of job titles, employers and cities students are working in post graduation:

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the laid back  class of 2015 this school year. Last week the program held an ice cream social in their honor. I enjoyed chatting with the students and learning what they were reading and working on.

The members of the class of 2015 come from a variety of backgrounds and majors including psychology, information science and technology, theatre, English, business, environmental studies and of course commutations students. A wide variety of backgrounds makes everyone’s classroom experience richer.

When they are discussing the readings in Prof. Derek Lackaff’s class, Theory and Audience Analysis in an Interactive Age, each student will bring a very different opinion with them, depending on their undergraduate studies. For the record they have been busy reading since they started classes. They have already read Reality Is Broke by Jane McGonigal, Networked by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman and have started Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. This class is surely busy and I can’t wait to share more work that stems from it.

It’s so exciting to see the work that comes from each graduating class – I can’t wait to see what the class of 2015 has in-store for us!

Shaping Up With Boot Camp

I’ve got my lunch bag packed, my shoes tied tight, I hope I get some sleep tonight!

The class of iMedia 2015

The class of iMedia 2015

iMedia 2015 has officially begun. Already we are immersing ourselves in reading, research, reading, blogging, coding, and did I mention reading? With just ten-months to master the realm of interactive media we’ve hit the ground running.

This year’s program consists of 32 students from many different backgrounds. Some students have come directly from their undergraduate studies in communications, a few students are focusing on forging a different career path, and all of us are looking to add new skills to our repertoire. To help prepare us for the iMedia program we completed a three-week boot camp in the beginning of August introducing us to the technology we’ll be using in the months to come.

My final photoshop project.  I can't wait to make this into a live website!

My final photoshop project. I can’t wait to make this into a live website!

Professor Phillip Motley served as our digital imaging guru. He instructed us in our crash course of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects. Even students who has never worked with the programs before produced posters, website mockups, and animated typography videos.

In the second week, my group and I moved on to HTML and CSS with Professor Brian Walsh. Even with our heads spinning with new terms like border padding and div and floats we all managed to replicate a page from Elon’s website with code alone. Pretty impressive.

In my final week, I moved onto video editing with Professor Bryan Baker. Armed with a Canon 70D and tripod we set out to record campus is a series of still and moving shots. During the week we produced a one-minute marketing clip for Elon and a short ‘about me’ video to help introduce ourselves to our fellow classmates.

Final site for the Phoenix Scene Scouts

Final site for the Phoenix Scene Scouts

Boot camp finished with a group project. Over the course of one week our groups built a website and produced a video for a local organization, business product, or concept. It was amazing to view the final results and see how far everyone has come in their media skills.

Now we are back in the classroom and moving at full speed. I can’t wait to expand on the skills I’ve learned in boot camp and can’t imagine how much we all will have developed by the end of the semester.

Good luck to everyone!