Aligning Research with Classroom Practice: Internet, Student Achievement and Cell Phones

from Educators' eZine

The Internet's Growing Role in Life's Major Moments

Life is full of choices. Making informed decisions in isolation is difficult; therefore, we often seek guidance from competent professionals, close confidents or other trusted advisors.

In this age of technology, another essential resource has emerged. Today, about 60 million Americans "say the Internet helped them make big decisions or negotiate their way through major episodes in their lives." In fact, "the Internet is the most important source for many facing important decisions" according to this research from the prestigious Pew Internet and American Life Project. And the trend is projected to continue.

Pew reports significant increases in individuals consulting the Internet for advice on a variety of issues including "helping another person cope with a major illness, coping themselves with a major illness, making major investment or financial decisions, looking for a new place to live and deciding about a school or a college for themselves or their children." Over a three year period, activity rose in each of these categories between 40% and 54%.

Although Pew generally limited their survey questions to these topics, there is obviously a much broader array of available information readily accessible online. From addictions to zygotes, it's all there.

What are the implications for educators? First, teachers and administrators must acknowledge the extraordinary power of the Internet. For many people, the Internet has become their sole, life-long and most often consulted resource for several reasons. It offers a myriad of references, 24/7 accessibility, immediate responses and anonymity. Plus, it's a low cost alternative to expensive professional consultants.

Secondly, educators need to develop, adopt and implement curricula to equip students with essential technology skills. Emphasizing how to decipher fact from fiction on the Internet is crucial in preventing flawed decisions based on misleading or inaccurate information. Given the Internet's influence on life decisions, the stakes are high. Shrewd analytical skills, therefore, are indispensable.

Next, students need multiple opportunities to practice applying these technology literacy skills. Adequate computer resources, both in quality and in number, must be available in schools. Students can then be challenged to use the Internet to problem-solve authentic scenarios based on real-life situations. Once several viable alternatives are identified, teachers can guide students through a rational decision-making process to select the best option.

Remember, seeking advice on the Internet is like eating at a cheap buffet. Although there's an endless supply, only some items are good and even fewer are good for you.

Horrigan, J. & Rainie, L. (2006, April). The Internet's growing role in life's major moments. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Washington, D.C.

Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning—A Practice Guide

Improving student achievement is a continuing public policy mantra. Because of this attention, virtually everyone has opinions on how to address this national priority. But how do you separate the anecdotal, undocumented and unproven ideas from the most promising? This best practice guide from the National Center for Educational Research at the U.S. Department of Education is a blueprint.

Practice guides differ from most research reports in three important ways. "The first is that a practice guide consists of a list of discrete recommendations that are intended to be actionable. The second is that those recommendations taken together are intended to be a coherent approach to a multifaceted problem. The third, which is most important, is that each recommendation is explicitly connected to the level of evidence supporting it, with the level represented by a grade (e.g., strong, moderate and low)."

The seven recommendations in this guide are, therefore, empirically-based, practical approaches to improving student achievement. Each is presented in a common template—specific recommendation; level of evidence; brief summary of evidence to support the recommendation; how to carry out the recommendation; and potential roadblocks and solutions. Clearly superior to other designs, this format fuses background evidence with specific implementation strategies.

Attempting to responsibly summarize the essence of this document in the next few paragraphs is impossible. Therefore, we urge all teachers and curriculum leaders to read the entire report. The web link is below.

In an effort to entice you, here are the five recommendations earning moderate and strong ratings of success based on evidence. "Space learning over time; Interleave worked example solutions with problem-solving exercises; Combine graphics with verbal descriptions; Connect and integrate abstract and concrete representations of concepts; and Ask deep exploratory questions."

Schools often implement questionable or unsubstantiated instructional approaches. There's no acceptable excuse to continue this practice. In this one publication, you have what works, how well it works, why it's effective based on research and how to do it. The only missing step is having someone implement the recommended strategies for you in your classroom.

National Center for Education Research. (2007, September) Organizing instruction and study to improve student learning. U.S. Department of Education, NCER 2007-2004.

Cell Phones in American High Schools: A National Survey

With an increase of over 6,350% between 1990 and 2008, cell phone use in the U.S. has obviously skyrocketed. Today, over 254 million Americans are part of this pop culture phenomenon.

High school students are frequent users. "Data from 2004 indicates that 58% of 6-12 th graders have a cell phone and 68% regularly bring them to school." These multifunctional phones are popular with young people because they offer instantaneous connections to friends as well as the ability to take pictures, access the Internet, watch video clips and send/receive text messages. (Features vary by model and subscription service levels.)

Since cell phones saturate our society, should they also permeate our schools? Should we regulate their use?

In this research, 112 high school principals from throughout the country responded to a structured questionnaire. Results offer a snapshot of current practices.

Most schools (84%) have adopted a written cell phone policy. Generally, they either completely ban or conditionally permit cell phone use by students. Violations result in disciplinary actions ranging from a mild reprimand to confiscation.

But do students have a right, legally or constitutionally, to carry their cell phones with them in school? No. Is there a rational and measurable educational benefit to student cell phone use in school? No. Do the potential negatives (disrupting others, taking embarrassing pictures, cheating on tests, inappropriate text messaging) clearly outweigh the benefits? Yes. Ironically, however, 24% of schools permit cell phone use by students.

Questions about teacher cell phone use were also asked. Surprisingly, one-third of principals agreed that "cell phone use by teachers adversely affects the sustained focus of teachers on the classroom/students". Furthermore, 22% believe "direct instructional time is lost due to cell phone use by teachers."

Although these negative perceptions are alarming, the research fails to identify the scope of the problem. Are all teachers, some teachers or a few teachers abusing the privilege? Lumping all teachers together does little more than proclaim and confirm an administrator's lack of leadership. Addressing each situation on a case by case basis is best practice.

In reality, few schools prohibit cell phone use by teachers according to this research. Enlightened administrators understand the limits of their authority when dealing with adults as well as the political ramifications. And many (73%) cite improved school safety when teachers have cell phones.

Exploiting cell phones in selected instances has merit. Equipping school bus drivers, teachers on field trips and school security personnel, are commendable examples.

As with all technologies, capitalizing on the benefits while simultaneously minimizing or eliminating negative effects, will enhance our educational environments.

Obringer, S.J. & Coffey. (2007, Winter) Cell phones in American high schools: A national survey.The Journal of Technology Studies. 33,(1),41-47.

Dr. Janet Buckenmeyer—