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Home / News / Culture Watch / Smartphones get an ‘F’ for lowering student grades
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Smartphones get an ‘F’ for lowering student grades

It’s never been easier for the average student to find the answer to a tough question using a smartphone. Across the nation, teachers regularly battle the distraction smartphones provide. From social media to messaging, technology seems to be hindering education rather than helping it and more students than ever have smartphones.

But is access to the devices and the instant answers they provide students worth the distraction?  Based on test scores and a slew of studies, the answer is a resounding “no.”

Rutgers University recently completed an exhaustive study that finds internet access through smartphones is harming students’ ability to retain information. Not just short term, but long term. And it’s a problem occuring around the globe in developed as well as undeveloped nations. Across the board, the impact is showing itself in a continuing decline in grades.

Homework most affected

Researchers note that students who usually receive high marks on homework assignments, but lower test grades (a half to full letter grade lower), are much more likely to use the internet for answers while completing their homework.

With these findings in mind, the study’s authors are questioning the validity of homework as a useful learning tool in 2020.

“When a student does homework by looking up the answers, they usually find the correct answer, resulting in a high score on the assignment,” says lead study author Arnold Glass, a professor of psychology at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences, in a release. “However, when students do that, they rapidly forget both the question and answer. Consequently, they transform homework from what has been, until now, a useful exercise into a meaningless ritual that does not help in preparing for exams.”

Grades on tests vs. homework shift dramatically

In all, 2,433 Rutgers-New Brunswick students took part in this study over an 11-year period (11 different classes).

A comparison of homework and test scores in 2008 and 2017 show just how much things have changed. In 2008, only 14% of students scored lower on tests than homework assignments. Fast forward to 2017, and that percentage jumps up to an astonishing 55%.

According to professor Glass, homework questions are supposed to be answered without the help of outside sources. Students should read the question, think about it, and answer to the best of their ability.

“If the student does this first and then finds the correct answer online, the student is likely to remember the answer, which will have a significant long-term effect on subsequent exam performance,” he concludes.

France and its nationwide ban

The problem is so bad that France has joined a long list of nations, and many U.S. school districts, that are banning the devices in the school setting.

French lawmakers in 2018 passed a law banning schoolchildren from having smartphones and other internet-enabled devices at schools.

The ban applies to smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and other connected devices, which must be turned off or left at home.

The only exceptions are for extra-curricular activities and disabled students. The law generally prohibits smartphones in all premises and during school activities outside the school building.

The new rules apply to pupils from three to 15 years old, but allows high schools administrators  to apply a partial or total ban.

In 2010 France banned smartphone use during class time.

The Rutgers study isn’t the first and won’t be the last.

MSNBC reported that one study published by the London School of Economics traced the impact of banning mobile phones at schools on exam scores. Researchers found that students in schools schools with phone bans earned higher test scores and that low-performing students benefited the most. “Restricting mobile phone use can be a low-cost policy to reduce educational inequalities,” concludes the study.

“Another study published in the Journal of Communication Education,” reports the news site, “found that students without mobile phones performed better in several different areas. They wrote down 62 percent more information in their notes, were able to recall more detailed information from class and scored a full letter grade-and-a-half higher on a multiple choice test than those who were actively using their mobile phones.

The study is published in Educational Psychology.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice and wire services

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