Our April article on The Mobile Technology in the Classroom Debate looked at the questions: “Is mobile technology in the classroom bad for students’ social, emotional and personal development? Is there an “App Gap” holding low-income children back? Is digital inequality a serious social disadvantage?”

So what’s new? The latest research findings from different sources look at the questions:

Are massive open online courses (MOOCs) giving the expected benefits? Does banning mobiles in schools improve student performance?

Are massive open online courses (MOOCs) giving the expected benefits?

Open online courses via the web were introduced in 2008 for distance education and in 2012, “the year of the MOOC”, they gained wide attention as a number of MOOC providers emerged, associated with world class universities. Since 2012 there has been massive worldwide uptake but questions are being asked the effectiveness of MOOCs and about their impact on other forms of education.

The New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2014 Higher Education Edition classes MOOCs under Competition from New Models of Education  – Difficult Challenge: Those we understand but for which solutions are elusive.  The Report notes that MOOCs are at the forefront of discussions on new models of education but  “While this new form of learning has immense promise, pundits are troubled by MOOCs’ low completion rates — 5-16% overall. In Udacity’s Introduction to Programming MOOC, for example, only 14% of the 160,000 enrolled students actually passed the course”

The NMC Report notes that  “After these initial statistics were published, many turned skeptical about how engaging these learning environments actually were. Critics warn that there is a need to examine these new approaches through a critical lens to ensure they are effective and evolve past the traditional lecture-style pedagogies.”

A team of researchers from the University of Warwick, Coventry, UK has set out to cast further light on this issue. Their findings appear in a 20 May 2015 ScienceDaily article, Learning about massive open online courses,  based on materials provided by Inderscience. The team notes that while MOOCs have become an important component of modern education,

“This movement has happened largely without the benefit of any real analysis and understanding which might be provided by evaluation of the courses themselves.”

Areas of concern include inadequate course development.  “Some institutions and staff do not appear to know why they are engaged in MOOC activity apart from a fear of being left behind or that they have been told to do it.

Economics and staffing are also problems: “Frequently, learners comment about the need for support, and staff note the large amount of time and effort required to provide even the current levels on offer.”

The team concludes that currently MOOCs do not live up to those expectations and that “Further research is needed to develop pedagogies appropriate to MOOCs and to determine the best framework for their deployment.”

Does banning mobiles in schools improve student performance?

“New technologies are typically thought of as improving productivity, however this is not always the case. When technology is multipurpose, such as cellphones, it can be both distracting and disruptive.”

This quote is from a study on mobile phone bans, conducted at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) by surveying 91 schools in four English cities (Birmingham, London, Leicester and Manchester) before and after strict cellphone policies were implemented. The researchers compared student exam records and mobile phone policies from 2001 to 2013.

The results are reported in an 18 May 2015 ScienceDaily article, Mobile phone bans lead to rise in student test scores.  Yes, student test scores improved significantly in classrooms that banned cellphones. “We found the impact of banning phones for these students equivalent to an additional hour a week in school, or to increasing the school year by five days,”

The researchers also note that low-achieving students benefited most from the ban and that likewise, the ban greatly benefitted special education needs students and those eligible for free school meals. They conclude that:

“Banning cell phones in schools would be a low-cost way for schools to reduce educational inequality. However, these findings do not discount the possibility that mobile phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured. Regardless, these results show that the presence of cellphones in schools cannot be ignored.”