Home computers don’t help kids in school

Giving kids a home computer doesn’t improve their “grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance” or behavior,  according to a new study in the American Economic Journal.

Researchers Robert W. Fairlie and Jonathan Robinson found California students in grades 6 to 10 who didn’t have a computer at home. Half were given one at the start of the school year; the other half got one at the end of the year. The study found “no effects on any educational outcomes.”

. . . Students without a computer at home (the “control group”) reported using a computer (at school, the library, or a friend’s house) about 4.2 hours per week, while students who now had a computer at home (the “treatment group”) used a computer 6.7 hours per week. Of that extra computer time, “Children spend an additional 0.8 hours on schoolwork, 0.8 hours per week on games, and 0.6 hours on social networking.”

It’s possible there’s some long-term effect that the study missed, writes Tim Taylor, who blogs as the Conversable Economist. “Perhaps in the future, computer-linked pedagogy will improve in a way where having a computer at home makes a demonstrable difference to education outcomes.” But, so far, nada.

Principal asks parents to ban social networks

To stop cyber-bullying, a New Jersey principal is asking parents to ban social networking for their middle schoolers. In an e-mail, Anthony Orsini, principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, also asked parents to tell children they’ll be using parental control software to monitor “every place they have visited online, and everything they have instant messaged or written to a friend.”

. . . there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None.

The principal also urged parents not to allow students to have a computer in their bedroom, saying more than 90 percent of homework doesn’t require a computer.

Dealing with the emotional fall-out from nasty rumors and gossip spread on social networking sites takes up 75 percent of her day, says Meredith Wearly, the school’s guidance counselor.

The principal urged parents to tell the police and demand an investigation if their child is the victim of online or texted attacks.

So far, response from parents has been positive, Orsini says. Children hate the idea.

Schools can use social networking

Schools should bring social networking into the classroom, argues Nicholas Bramble in Slate Magazine. Afraid of cyber-stalking, harassment and online pedophiles, many schools are trying to ban social media. That’s short-sighted, writes Bramble.

Social networks can also pull in students who are otherwise disengaged, because they draw on kids’ often intense interest in finding new ways to communicate with one another.

He suggests “students could talk about what they’re doing on Facebook and company, map out the ways they’re making connections with one another, and share videos and software they’ve created.”

Teachers can manage the project by selecting the best content and conversations, and incorporating it into other parts of the curriculum. If a student created an entry on Wikipedia for a local band or sports team, other students could work on revising the entry and building it into a larger local history project. The audience for school projects need no longer be one hurried teacher.

“Slamming the classroom door on social media just makes the virtual world more of a waste land,” Bramble writes.

Too blue sky?

'Unfriend' is word of the year

“Unfriend” is the word of 2009, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary. The verb refers to the act of removing someone as a “friend” on a social networking site such as Facebook. But some Facebook fans protested the choice, saying “defriend” is the term of art.

In technology, there was “hashtag,” which is the hash sign added to a word or phrase that lets Twitter users search for tweets similarly tagged; “intexticated” for when people are distracted by texting while driving, and “sexting,” which is the sending of sexually explicit SMSes and pictures by cellphone.

Finalists from the economy included “freemium,” meaning a business model in which some basic services are provided for free, and “funemployed,” referring to people taking advantage of newly unemployed status to have fun or pursue other interests.

“Birther” and “teabagger” made the finals in the political and current affairs section.

Targeting teacher-student communications

Teachers who telephone, e-mail or text their students can get in trouble in Louisiana and in some districts, reports Education Week. In an attempt to prevent sexual exploitation, districts are making it harder for school employees to contact students one on one.

By Nov. 15, Louisiana teachers are supposed to document every electronic interaction with a student using “a nonschool-issued device, such as a personal cellphone or e-mail account.”  Teachers also are supposed to report if they’re contacted by a student.

Louisiana Rep. Walker Hines, a Democrat, voted against the bill in his state. “I did not believe that this legislation would deter any teacher from having a sexual relationship with a student,” he said. “In fact, I believe this legislation could have a major chilling effect on teachers’ becoming mentors for students.”

. . . The documentation consists of filling out an electronic form that explains the reason behind the interaction, which is then sent to the school administration.

Nationwide, a number of districts are limiting electronic communications, Education Week reports. In some, teachers are required or urged to use district-provided e-mail addresses rather than personal accounts. In others, school staffers may not communicate with students on social-networking Web sites such as Facebook. The more flexible districts simply tell teachers to use professional ethics without specifying what’s OK or not OK.

The Lamar County school district in Mississippi prohibits teachers from posting documents or photos online that “might result in a disruption of classroom activity.” Presumably that means no bikini shots.

Meanwhile, two Indiana high school girls are suing because they were suspended from sports for posting sexually suggestive photos of a sleepover online on a  passw0rd-protected site. (Someone got access and circulated the photos.) The girls were forced to go to counseling sessions and apologize to the schools’ coaches.

It will be hard enough to regulate the cyber-behavior of school employees without trying to monitor the virtual antics of sophomores.


I now have 100 followers on Twitter, where I’m known as JoanneLeeJacobs.  (The Australian/London Joanne Jacobs got the name first.)

So far, my experiments with social networking haven’t taught me why I’m doing social networking but, hey, I’ve got 100 followers.

I’m trying StumbleUpon too to promote blog posts.  (Click on Share This under each post.)

The big change in my life is that Google, which banned the blog for some white-on-white type that a spammer snuck on to a comment, has de-banned me.  I didn’t realize I was banned until a few months ago, but it explains why traffic dropped last summer and never recovered in September.  The number of visitors has gone up by 20 percent since I got back on Google.

And I’m back in the top 10 for both “Joanne” and “Jacobs.” Four or five years ago, I was the number one “Joanne” and the number two “Jacobs.” Those were the days.

Update: I’m up to 103 followers on Twitter.

Plus I saw that PostRank lists this blog fifth for engagement in education blogs. I think “engagement” is measured by number of comments, but I’m not sure.