Wednesday, May 27, 2015

New Research: Banning Cell Phones Prepares Students for The Past

A recent study from the Center for Economic Performance in London makes a disturbing recommendation to ban students from using their digital devices for learning. The study making the rounds in stories like this one (The Conversation), this one (ABC On Your Side), and this one (NY Mag) disregards what innovative educators know and research shows: Paper assessments are a poor indicator of student achievement. 

The study indicates that after schools banned mobile phones, test scores of high school students increased by 6.4% of a standard deviation, which they say means that it added the equivalent of five days to the school year. It goes on to say the results indicate the ban has a greater impact on special needs students and those eligible for free school meals.

But before schools and districts start pulling devices from the students who need them most, it is important to take a look under the hood.

Research (such as this study from Teachers College) has long showed that paper and pencil assessments severely underestimate the achievement of students accustomed to a digital world. Our student’s brains have indeed been rewired for the 21st century where innovation and creativity are valued over the drill, kill, and bubble fill requirements of outdated tests.  

In fact, we need to stop assuming that cell phones are weapons of mass distraction, and start embracing them as tools of engagement. Nearly  60% of teens use their own mobile devices in school for learning even when schools are not supporting such use. Savvy teachers who are tapping into students' love of texting are helping them increase their literacy skills too. Numerous studies have shown that the more kids text, the more literate they become. One study from California State University found that “texting can improve teens’ writing”; others from Cambridge Assessment and Coventry University have corroborated this conclusion.

Scott McLeod puts it this way, "Low-level work isn’t very interesting or engaging to many (most?) students, particularly those who already find that traditional schooling doesn’t meet their needs very well. So, faced with the opportunity to do something else, many students do." McLeod, challenges educators to consider a third option: Actually doing higher-level learning and USING the smartphones to help with that? 

In classrooms where teachers are equipped with 21st century teaching practices they are incorporating school-provided and/or student-owned technology into higher-level learning. As one teacher told me after empowering her students to bring their own devices for learning,

The problem with this study is that it looks at the traditional classroom designed to prepare students for their teacher’s 20th century pasts, rather than the connected world in which they live.  As education visionary Marc Prensky reminds us, "Testing students without all the tools they will have at their disposal in the real world is no longer appropriate." In fact, there are forward thinking school districts that empower students to use technology for learning and assessment. Had these students been able to demonstrate their knowledge using 21st century tools, the results surely would have been different.

"My students have become more alive and motivated. Students with problems, especially English language learners and special education students, have improved their behavior and are more into learning when we allow them to use their mobile devices."

We must stop forcing students to power down when learning and taking assessments. Instead, we must support students in effectively, respectfully, and responsibly USING their digital resources which they will need to succeed in their connected world.

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