Should we ban mobile phones in school?

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It seems that the hardest part of writing any research is coming up with a good title.

Earlier this month King & Baatartogtokh published a paper examining the theory of disruptive innovation that was made famous in the book The Innovators Dilemma. They found (8 years after publication..) that less than 10% of the case studies cited in what has become something of a management bible actually demonstrated the theory in action. Their paper shifted ‘disruptive innovation’ from being a goal all companies should aim at to an observation that occurs in rare cases.

It should have been huge news, but they gave their work the less than exciting title of ‘How Useful is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation‘ and nobody seems to have paid much attention.

In the ed tech space we seem to be going through a phase of coming up with more sensationalist titles and abstracts to get work noticed.

The problem with this is people still don’t seem to be reading the papers, but instead come up with a version of what they think it might say based on a few lines at the start.

Which is nice.

The recent media hype around banning mobile phones is a pretty good example of this. Tracing back, it seems the source is a Centre for Economic Performance paper published in May.

They went with a fairly neutral title of ‘Ill Communication: Technology, Distraction and Student Performance’. But there’s a couple of lines in the  abstract that suggest something bigger is within:

“…we find that student performance in high stakes exams significantly increases post ban.”

“results indicate that these increases in performance are driven by the lowest achieving students.”

And they finish it off with:

“restricting mobile phone use can be a low-cost policy to reduce educational inequalities.”

All of which sounds like we should be rethinking our policy of allowing smartphones in lessons.

The study itself is interesting, and the method is strong. They have a large data set (91 schools) and have controlled for other variables (such as policy or leadership change) that might have had an impact on results.

The impressive results show an improvement in test scores of 6.41% of a standard deviation for the student body as a whole, 14.23% for students in the lowest quartile of prior achievement gain after a mobile phone ban.

But what is missing in the coverage of this story that I saw is the nature of mobile usage in these schools before the ban. The key line from the conclusion:

“these findings do not discount the possibility that mobile phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured.”

Somewhat less eye catching than where we started.

What I take away from this study is that students will become distracted if not engaged in their task (whether that task includes ‘technology’ or not), and that smart phones are distracting things. But, while the research did find that a ban had an impact in these schools they also acknowledge that making use of the tools for learning could do the same.

Certainly a ban would be easier to implement than the kind of large scale curriculum redesign and training required to include smartphones in lessons, but this paper shouldn’t discourage schools who have started down the BYOD route. Mobile devices could be a distraction and there are certainly lessons where they should remain switched off, but they could equally be used for good too.

Read the full discussion paper here.
Great coverage of The Innovators Dilemma story at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Go read.
Image CC licensed on Flickr by JapanExperterna.se

 

Using Gmail filters to get to inbox zero

inbox zero

I’ve been working at (or very close to) inbox zero for about a year now. Anything more than about 10 emails in my inbox and I get twitchy.

In the main I achieve this following an action / hold / waiting labelling strategy that sits well with the GTD approach to productivity.

I also use the filter settings in Gmail to make sure my inbox only contains email I actually need to review now.

Google have a quick intro to filters here, this is how I have mine set up:

1) Any email that contains the word ‘unsubscribe’ should skip the inbox and go straight to a label called ‘newsletters’

This rule takes any email that gives me an option to unsubscribe, stops it appearing in my inbox and places it in a folder for review when I have time.

It catches all the newsletters and sales blah that I never need to see urgently and hides it until I’m ready. Obviously it’s not foolproof, but I tend to review it at least weekly so I’m never too far from an email from someone who inadvertently used my trigger word.

You should use this alongside actually clicking the unsubscribe link in those that you never read.

2) Any email logs skip the inbox and go to a label called ‘logs’

This is probably a bit specific to the IT admin part of my role. I use the same technique to archive all the various email status notifications I get of successful backups, WordPress updates, etc.

I do a bit of fine tuning on these filters to make sure logs containing errors (that I need to deal with quickly) do hit my inbox.

3) Any email receipts skip the inbox and go to archive

I like to keep a record of purchases in my archive, but I don’t need to see them when they arrive. If I need to find them in future for any reason I can just search.

Beyond these three I have a few custom rules in place to catch more specific cases, but for most cases this keeps my inbox nice and calm.

 

GTD on Mac and iOS

I’ve just got back from a couple of weeks of holiday with the family in France. While over there I spent some time implementing a full GTD system (read this book by David Allen if you’re unfamiliar).

I’ve run my email inbox in this style for some time, but as I seem to be getting busier both personally and professionally (and older so worse at keeping things in my head) it seemed to be a good idea to switch fully. The ‘mind like water‘ concept is really appealing- I want to keep on top of everything I have going on, but I also want to be able to relax & not be worrying about it all.

The book is much better at explaining what/why than I would be and is really worth a read if you want to feel more productive. I did want to share a few quick notes on iOS and macOS tools I have found to work well though:

  1. Omnifocus. It’s not cheap (& I got it for macOS and iOS), but it is perfect for collection, organisation and review of projects. Takes a bit of work to set up your projects and contexts but it’s really worth it, I promise. They also have some great GTD specific tutorials to get you started.
  2. Siri. There’s a nice setting in Omnifocus that syncs iOS reminders. Simply shouting at your phone ‘Hey Siri, remind me to do X’ will get the job to your inbox ready for processing.
  3. Captio. I don’t always want to dictate tasks (shouting at my phone on the train seems weird..) so I use Captio on iOS connected to my Omnifocus address gives me the quickest route to get something into my inbox.

I really like the look of Omnifocus on the Apple Watch too. Task alerts on the wrist is another reason not to get the phone out which seems like another step closer towards ‘mind like water’.

If you’re a Mac/iOS user also trying to GTD let me know if you have any other tips to add here 🙂

How I use ifttt

ifttt2

ifttt2

Just in case you’ve missed this one, ifttt is a neat new web service currently in beta that has the potential to really help out those of us who struggle to keep all the various online channels we are part of together in some kind of logical way.
Ifttt – If this, then that – attempts to link together web services to make them work for you. By adding simple rules to ifttt you can take out some of the repetition of your online routine.

As people are starting to play I thought I’d share what I have found to be helpful. These are the rules I came up with:

Links

I read a lot of web content in a day. With links coming in from Twitter/Google Reader/etc it is common to hear people complain about not being able to keep up, but my problem is keeping a record of the good things I do see. I love delicious, but adding everything there was one of these chores that was slightly more manual than it should be. Now, thanks to Ifttt I have 2 rules:

  • If I post a tweet with a link in, add to delicious with a ‘tweeted’ tag so I know where it came from.
  • If I share a link in Google Reader, add to delicious with a ‘Google read’ tag.

Photos

This is more of a work in progress, I want all my pictures to end up in one central location too. I have 2 rules set up, but looking at more.

  • If I add a photo to Instagram, add to my Flickr stream.
  • If I add a photo on Foursquare, add to my Flickr stream.

I’d really like the same to work for any tweet with an image in, but currently can’t see that option in ifttt at the moment.

There are loads more options to play with, you can see the range of services it talks to in the image at the top of the post. Next on the list to is to see how it can help my Evernote/Instapaper/Wordpress workflows. The service is still in beta, but I’d recommend you got yourself on the invite list if you use the web in a similar way to me.