Monday, January 25, 2010

Myths of Rules and Incentives

Now that we have viewed and discussed Barry Schwartz's TED Talk, think about how the mythology of rules and incentives applies to your own life. Schwartz mostly related his ideas to the financial crisis, but what about applying these to school rules and incentives?

For example, I was at an educational technology conference in which many of the presenters argued for the integration of cell phones in the classroom. These educators strongly believe that the policy of banning cell phones in school is wrong-headed because it is based upon a "myth". According to proponents of this idea, the myth is that cell phones disrupt the learning process. Instead, they argue that cell phones in the classroom would actually enhance learning. I am undecided on this issue: what do you think?


Here's a link to a Google Doc version of the talk, just in case the transcript below doesn't work for you.

20 comments:

Molly Hunt said...

I feel like cell phones would be both an asset and a hinderance to education. For example, Batman has looked up information numerous times in class and presented it to us. However, If I was allowed to use my phone in class, I would be very, very tempted to text people. Also, I would obviously leave my phone on, and if someone called my phone during class, the ringer would go off.
I feel one of the big incentive myths in my education is, "if you do ____, it will help you get into college." So, people take classes they won't like or get involved in activities that they don't like and hope it gets them into better schools. However, to my knowledge, there is no set formula that guarantees college admissions.

Ruchi said...

I believe that the talk actually touched a lot upon the things we discussed in class when looking at curriculum choices for next year. I agree with Molly completely that there's an enormous amount of pressure put on students to take classes that they don't necessarily want to take, or that don't suit them well, for the "greater good" of getting into a good college. What use is a attending a good college if you can't study what you want? Maybe it'll lead you to a career path that will make you rich, but it certainly won't make you happy. It's not like there's a certain formula for happiness either, but when it comes to school I truly believe that the incentive of getting a better grade is what keeps a lot of students going, for better or for worse.

I'm not sure what kind of positive impact cell phones would have in the classroom, unless, of course it was an iPhone (magical..). If I were allowed to use my phone in class, I KNOW I would eventually end up texting. If we're talking about ways to quickly gather information, like looking up a statistic on a phone with internet, why not just allow students to have their own computers at school? That seems like a more intelligent choice to me.

Lizzy said...

As far as cell phone use during class goes, I am not a supporter. I can see how looking something up on an iphone could be helpful, but at NT there are computers in every room, and the teacher could simply ask a student to look something up there during class. I think that the negatives greatly outweigh the positives. Can you imagine sitting in school and having all of the students texting and answering phones? I have enough trouble focusing in class already without such distractions. I can save them for diversions during homework time. :)

MMarin said...

I think having cell phones during school is ok, to the extent that having them on (and silent, and generally put away) in the classroom should be allowed. I think that when they're useful, they should be allowed to be used. For example, a student could look up something on an iPhone if it's faster than logging in to a computer, and maybe could even make a call about something, depending on what's happening in class (and the occasional text isn't catastrophic). I don't think there's any reason a student should go to a computer just because one's available if they can just use their phone, because I don't think school's use of computers is always that effective, anyway. While I'm generally against texting in class, for example, I thought it was funny when my MClanguage teacher got mad at a girl for texting during class time when she, literally, had nothing else to do except sit, and the language teachers take the entire class takes trips to the language lab every week to do absolutely pointless digital tasks (i.e. playing pictionary on the computer with the person at the cubicle next to you, listening to the teacher's voice in headphones when they're also close enough for you to hear their voices through the headphones, watching videos that could be watched in class).

Would using cell phones in class enhance rather than disrupt learning? I'm not sure. Personally, I'm slightly uncomfortable with "integrating" them in to the classroom because I don't like having a cell phone myself and think it would be inconvenient if I actually had to use it in class. (I don't know where my phone even is right now, and haven't seen it in a couple weeks). I'm way too connected to technology as it is, so I don't even like using computers in school sometimes (eye fatigue, multitasking, etc).

But it depends. While I'm not against kids having their cell phones in class for use now and then, I have absolutely no idea what further benefits cell phone use could have. Did anyone at the conference give examples of how they could be used? If there are ways of connecting the capabilities of cell phones to what's being learned/done in a class, students could use their cell phones for more interesting and educational purposes more often and both appreciate the technology and the education more. I just don't know what options there are, though, especially for phones that aren't like the iPhone.

StoneA said...

Like Michelle, I don't really see what future benefits allowing the use of cellphones in class could offer. I'm interested to hear how pro-cellphone teachers support their argument. The only beneficial thing I can think of is the quick and easy internet access that is becoming increasingly common to today's cellphones. However, enabling the use of cellphones would have a preponderance of negative effects. Kids would undoubtedly use their phones to socialize (thus distracting them from their classwork), every room would suffer incessant vibrations and beeps, and students would fiddle with the non-productive accessories their phones offer for entire periods.
I really think Molly was dead on with the, "if you do ____, it will help you get into college." incentive (and possible myth). I know that I personally am creating my senior year schedule with that in mind (atleast a little). Right now I only have three majors for my 2nd semester of senior year, my initial reaction was to go to my post high school counselor and see which semester courses colleges would view as legitimate. For all I know it won't make a difference if I choose to major in cooking or economics, but for the sake of maybe strengthening my transcript, I'll go with the boring one.

Sophie M said...

I agree with Molly and Andy about the incentive/myth about doing things in high school in order to get into college. This relates back to what Mr. O'Connor said when we were discussing course options for next year. He talked about how people see high school as a stepping stone for college, and college as a stepping stone for a job, which restricts people to focus on their future instead of focusing on the present. I think that I have allowed myself to think in this restrictive range when it comes to choosing my classes for next year. In this case, I an don't see this as an incentive.. but for others, I guess it depends on your point of view. It can be a beneficial incentive to get into college if that's the ultimate goal, but it can also be limiting in terms of experience in high school, and later, college. In life, it seems as if tomorrow is more important than today and people are living in the future instead of appreciating the present, and I feel like this is one reason why.

Sam H said...

I think that cell phones would not be helpful in a classroom. Students would not use cell phones for learning, but for staying in touch with friends. IN a hyper-connected world like the one that we live in I think that the last thing we need in the classroom is the distraction of everyone that a student knows a key click away. In the halls, cell phones are irrelevant, but I don't think that they should be allowed in class.

If a phone goes off in class, there should be no repercussions (except a stern look from the teacher). My problem with cell phones is not the distraction of a ringer going off in class, but the disruption of having everyone in your contacts reachable when you should be focusing.

Caroline C said...

I agree with Sam. I do not think cells phones are useful in the classroom. Like everyone has said, the only legitimate reason to use a cell phone in class would be to look up information. When I am doing homework, I usually have my phone sitting right next to me and when it goes off or I get a text, I immediately look at it and get distracted. Having cell phone use allowed in classrooms would cause a disturbance to everyone. Also I think it has a bit to do with respect. If cell phones were allowed, chances are many students would text friends and start a conversation. To me, this seems the same as talking out loud to the person next to you while the teacher is delivering a lecture, discussion, etc. This is very disrespectful towards the teacher, and I think cell phones in classrooms would only hurt not help.

nathans said...

I really like the example that Caroline provided. Texting people during class is the equivalent of talking with your neighbor when you should not be.
Obviously I would be for allowing phones in school so I could use mine, but really I don't think it is a necessity because there are rarely emergency situations that can be solved by texting during class.
Also I don't really feel as if administration needs to spend too much time trying to change things because it already happens. Every class I am in I see kids texting during class even now when there are rules in place to prevent it.

Q said...

I really don't think that cell phones are a necessary to get as much as possible out of one's learning experience. I, also, like the example that Caroline gave and agree that texting would only be distracting and disrespectful. I know it was mentioned that it might be possible to rearrange the classroom in a way that would make cell phones and integral part of the education process. However, at this point, I feel that this is not the case and cell phones would simply get in the way of what we are trying to learn.
I think there are other ways to get the advantages of cell phones (internet for example) through other devices. Laptops are one alternative and I know there are many more options that could provide the same, if not more, advantages than a cell phone.

Maeli G. said...

The structures of most of my classes exclude cellphones as unnecessary distractions from the learning environment. Today, when kids have their phones in class, they are typically texting, surfing the internet, or checking email rather than absorbing any of the information provided to them in the educational setting. I believe, though, that DISCOURAGEMENT of the use of technology has actually ENCOURAGED the behaviors teachers see as distracting. Students required to use modern technologies such as cellular phones and similar devices would be far less tempted to use them for pure diversion during school in the same way that over time, students encouraged to use graphing calculators are less tempted by the various games and activities they contain. Eventually, the phone becomes a tool for learning instead of a prohibited object of entertainment for bored students. Sure, they're not necessary; it's possible just as well educated without the use of phones and other technologies. However, allowing their use is more practical and more appropriate for the time in which we live. When these devices are such integral parts of our daily lives outside of the classroom, it may be wise to try and incorporate them into the classroom.

Katie M said...

Regarding the use of cell phones in class- I don't really see a big benefit. I feel like not only would it enable students to cheat on tests, but also encourage students to not pay attention. Many people commented above that they would feel distracted, and I agree. Above Maeli wrote that because these devices are such integral parts of our daily lives outside of school, it would be smart to try to incorporate them into the classroom. But what would this entail exactly? How else could a cell phone be beneficial in a classroom besides using the calculator function (but we already have extensive calculators) or the internet to look up something?

Ellie said...

I think that incentives can be both good and bad in terms of running your life. In the TED conference video, Barry Schwartz gave the example of the janitors. He said that many hospital janitors went out of their way to help people, even though it wasn’t in their job requirements. He argued, and I agree, that had they been given an incentive to do such things, the sincerity and the effects of these actions would not have been the same. I think that the reason that incentives don’t work in this situation is because it tries to force morals on a person, which is difficult to do.

In contrast, an incentive to increase ease and convenience in a person’s life is much more successful. I thought about the incentive that the Metra gives you to promote buying tickets before you board the train. Tickets are less expensive if you buy them at the counter than if you buy them in them on board. They do this, so that the process of checking tickets on the train can run more smoothly. I think that the incentive is effective because it isn't created in response to rules, to restrict people, but to make life more convenient.

Bob P said...

I think a cell phone would be useful in class, but it would be more of a distraction as many students would fall into the to temptation to text or play games. But there are some good uses a cellphone could provide other than looking things up on the internet or using a calculator function. A phone could be used to record lectures, instead of students taking notes, allowing students to divert all focus to the speaker. Also, allowing cell phones in class creates many programming opportunities, allowing for programs to be made specifically for use in the classroom. Like a database of math equations or a list of spanish terms in a chapter. These apps are relatively easy to make so even the students could start making them for their classes, and by doing so this reinforces the student's knowledge of the subject.

Shirley said...

Reading through all of the fourteen above comments, I noticed something quite interesting. Admittedly, Schwartz uses 'incentive' the same way, but I find it a bit strange that everyone of those who commented used the single word 'incentive' as if it meant the same as the phrase 'economic incentive'. I rather disagree with equating the word to the phrase. By doing so, one may easily forget other kinds of incentives, such as social incentives. Helping people, as the janitors in Schwartz's presentation did, will generally make a person feel good. Getting that good feeling is one incentive to go out of one's way to be kind. Also, if others see your act of kindness, they are more likely to try to be kind to you, yet another incentive. Neither of the previous two incentives are ones that we, usually, consciously think about, but I do not think that they should be discounted. They are still incentives, nonetheless.

Sarah. said...

I feel that overall, cell phones would not benefit the learning process. At my middle school, we were all given laptops to take to each class, home, and back to school the next day. These were great tools and assets - we were able to become much more acquainted with technology. We used PowerPoint and Excel quite frequently, and in new and interesting ways. We were able to snap it out and quickly add something into an essay if something had just spontaneously come to mind. But the thing is, only schools like Marie Murphy can make this possible. With a graduating 8th grade class of 92 students and a school discount can you afford the laptops. Not only that, but it would be very difficult to repair all the malfunctions and breakdowns, let alone teach exactly what they had to offer. The question I have about cell phones is how could we all learn if we did not have the same one? Another that comes to mind is, how many phones would be as beneficial as phones (or the like)? Students may look at expensive cell phones similarly to how they look at expensive calculators; sometimes, it feels like they are just mini robots stowed away in our backpacks that we still do not fully know how to use. Financial pressures and conformity may change the way we view cell phones altogether. The transition period between having a cell phone as some sort of communication device to your binder may not run very smoothly, at least not at first.

Sarah. said...

let alone teach exactly what they had to offer with hundreds of students*
as beneficial as iphones*

DPark said...

Being a Marie Murphy graduate, I totally see Sarah's point. If we were to fuse the technologies of a smart phone into the class, it serves as another piece of technology that requires maintenance and technological support. This year, teachers math teachers had to learn the Smart Board technology and a new CAS calculator. Phones just serve as high maintenance objects and distractions.
Just like Caroline and Nathan, hand held technologies are easily accessible and very tempting to react with. Allowing phones in class distract students and may even allow a risk of cheating in their respective classes. There's an element of trust and honesty that would be unpredictable.

Morgan L said...

While watching the state of the union what caught my attention was when Obama was talking about incentives for those who have less of a carbon footprint. I think without the incentives there is a diffusion of responsibility effect because people will just assume the next person will do it so they don't have to. These incentives will directly effect them in a positive way by putting money right in their pocket. It's unfortunate that people cannot just think about the greater good of the world, but in these times with the economic crisis it seems the most effective way to get the ball rolling a little quicker.

I know this is a little off topic but we just talked about the state of the union during class so it sort of fits.

MMarin said...

Danny/Sarah bring good points about maintenance/learning curves. What it comes down to is the benefit the technology brings versus the cost of the complexity of integrating the new type of technology. Can cell phones really offer enough benefit to make reconfiguration of class structure worth it? Cell phones really aren't that complex, as much as I hate them, and they're everywhere-- perhaps it's not so unrealistic to integrate them in to a class.

I think a lot of people are making assumptions about how students will, in reality, use their cell phones. Has anyone ever cheated on a test with a cell phone-- or even a calculator? Has anyone ever honestly considered texting or typing letters on a calculator while taking an exam a feasible way to cheat, even in the most fanciful imagined scenario? It just seems ridiculous.

Or more relevantly, why do we assume that when kids are left to their own devices (har har) they'll misuse their time? I think if students are given trust and guidelines, they will do things by the rules well enough the vast majority of the time (ironically, I'm writing this instead of paying attention in art class right now). And if they do waste their time in class (on phones or computers), they can hold themselves personally accountable for making up that lost time. As long as it doesn't affect other people in class (with volume or whatever), who cares? In one of my classes, we often have laptops available to use, and students can basically leave whenever to do work outside of class (if it's time for group work, which is often), no questions asked. While I'm sure plenty of the kids in my class waste time on the laptops during class, the work still gets done.

Personally, I think if you give students more trust and freedom, while also giving them the opportunity to use technology they enjoy using in their daily lives anyway, the chance of there being endless distraction is very small. The fact that we show up to school every day says a lot about how cooperative we are as it is.