Research profile: Eileen Wood

Almost anyone who’s spent an entire lecture looking at Facebook will justify doing so with one simple excuse: ‘I’m good at multitasking.’

But according to the research of Eileen Wood, a professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University, multitasking – at least when it comes to checking Facebook in class – is something most students don’t do well.

“A large number of people think they can multitask, but they can’t,” said Wood, who has been at WLU for over 20 years. “They can’t do it when they’re driving and they can’t do it when they’re trying to learn either.”

Recently Wood conducted research along with graduate student Lucia Zivcakova that looked at whether or not students actually were able to absorb material being taught while using technology such as Facebook and texting in class. The study took place in one of Wood’s research methods classes at Laurier and had one group of students use technology for distractions such as Facebook, email and texting, one group use computers just for note taking and another take notes using pen and pencil.

“After each class we had a multiple choice test [on lecture material] and lo and behold, it’s not good to multitask,” said Wood. “The only thing that showed any difference was whether or not [students] multitasked… they just didn’t do well compared to the people who were just taking paper and pencil notes…. when you do things just for entertainment, just a little distraction here and there, it doesn’t seem to be a little distraction at all, it seems to be a huge distraction and that was the first time we’ve able to quantify that.”

However, that’s not the only time Facebook has popped up in Wood’s research.

Currently, she, along with a group of grad students are studying how much information Facebook users disclose in relation to how heavily they protect their online privacy.

After looking at 400 randomly selected Facebook profiles and finding that many were vulnerable to identity threats –both in terms of identity theft and things like users letting potential thieves know when they’ll be on vacation—Wood and her research team began looking into what might make people either be more careful about the information they post or increase their security settings.

In the study, the team gave participants who were making Facebook accounts warnings about posting personal information that included a story of someone getting stalked and standard legal information on the availability of this information.

“When we gave disclosure information, [participants tended] to disclose less, but you don’t do anything about privacy. Nothing at all,” said Wood. “So then what we did was we built in a workshop on how to use privacy settings. When we did that, the first set of analyses suggested that they just increased the use of privacy settings; it had no impact on disclosure. That was unusual because we thought those things would be related, you’d think what you want to keep private and what you want to disclose would be similar but they’re not.”

In addition, Wood is currently researching introducing Facebook to senior citizens and how they handle privacy settings and revealing information. She also does research on the use of technology in the education of young children.

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