Text messages add up to improvement

A new study by the Education Endowment Foundation has found that text messages sent to parents increased maths achievement and lowered absenteeism.

The Parent Engagement Project (PEP) was designed to raise achievement by encouraging parents to engage with their children’s learning. Parents were sent regular texts about upcoming tests, whether homework had been submitted, and what their children were learning. On average, each parent received 30 texts during the academic year. The cluster randomised controlled trial involved 15,697 students in Years 7, 9, and 11 from 36 English secondary schools during the 2014/15 school year.

Children who received the intervention showed a small, significant, positive impact (an effect size of +0.033) on their maths achievement. There was also a significant reduction in their absenteeism (-0.054), even though none of the texts were about attendance.

Although the effects of the intervention were small, the programme is inexpensive and relatively easy for schools to implement. Parents were generally satisfied with the frequency, timing, and content of the texts. A teacher survey and interviews showed that schools were enthusiastic about the programme and liked its immediacy and low cost.

Source: Texting Parents (2016), Education Endowment Foundation

Tweet tweet: How distracting are mobile phones in class?

A new study in Communication Education examines the effects of texting, Twitter, and message content on student learning. Participants in the study were 145 undergraduate students enrolled in communication classes at a large university in the US. After completing a brief screening questionnaire, students were randomly assigned to one of several study groups: a control group who did not use their phones, an experimental group who received text messages during class either related or unrelated to lecture content, or an experimental group who posted tweets either related or unrelated to lecture content. Furthermore, the groups were broken down into a high-distraction texting group (message every 30 seconds) or a low-distraction texting group (message every 60 seconds), or a high-distraction Twitter group (post a tweet every 30 seconds) or a low-distraction Twitter group (post a tweet every 60 seconds). During class, while the messages and tweets were being sent and received, students were instructed to take notes as they watched a 12-minute video lecture, and then they were tested on the content.

Results showed that the control group and relevant-message groups earned a 10–17% higher letter grade, scored 70% higher on recalling information, and scored 50% higher on note-taking than students who composed tweets or responded to irrelevant messages. Sending/receiving messages unrelated to class content negatively impacted learning and note-taking, while related messages did not appear to have a significant negative impact.

Source: Mobile Phones in the Classroom: Examining the Effects of Texting, Twitter, and Message Content on Student Learning (2015), Communication Education.

Smart distractions

A new report from the LSE Centre for Economic Performance looks at changes in test scores after schools banned pupils from using mobile phones.

The authors analysed data on GCSE performance before and after a ban on mobiles in school (130,482 observations) and found an overall increase of 5.67% of a standard deviation in across-school and across-year test scores.

When pupil characteristics, prior peer achievement, and changes in school leadership/policies were taken into account, the average pupil’s test results in a school that banned mobiles were 6.41% of a standard deviation higher than scores from pupils at schools that allowed mobiles.

A particularly striking finding was that the overall improvements in test results were led by the lowest-achieving pupils and banning mobiles had no significant impact on high-achieving pupils. This led the authors to suggest that restrictions on mobiles may be a low-cost way to reduce educational inequalities.

Source: Ill Communication: Technology, Distraction & Student Performance (2015), The London School of Economics and Political Science.