Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Why I banned my daughter from Facebook and gave her a pen and paper

A study by psychologist Professor Paul Kirschner at an American University*, has revealed that students who log on to Facebook while studying get worse results than those who don’t. This comes as no surprise to me. For the past year, my husband and I have been waging a daily battle with our daughter Lillie over this very subject.

With GCSEs on the horizon, we felt the time had come for her to get down to some studying well away from the distractions of Facebook. We have a house full of books, what more could she need?

What more indeed? It transpired that her school had thoughtfully provided a number of online study aids that, by definition, required the use of a computer. The question ‘how do those children get on who haven’t got a computer at home?’ was met with a scornful sigh.

I realise that we are living in a world dominated by the Internet and schools are duty bound to keep up with technology but expecting a class of hormonally challenged, socially hungry youngsters to concentrate on their homework when they could be catching up with who is ‘poking’ who at the touch of a button, is like asking a bee to ignore a pot of honey.

The Internet is a massive resource and schools ignore it at their peril, but there are limits. Earlier this year, when Lillie began working towards exams, I was dismayed by how many hours she was spending ‘revising’ in front of the computer.

“Surely you must have some written notes?” I asked, remembering the volumes of hand written pages from my own student years.

“It’s all here mum!” she said. Sure enough there on screen was everything you needed to know to achieve an A* in GCSE history but was all this information being absorbed? I had good reason to doubt it. Every time I left the room, a quick click on the mouse replaced Hitler’s image with that of one of Lillie’s Facebook friends. When I finally managed to drag her away from the screen to test her, the horrible truth was revealed. Lillie, who is generally not short of things to say, was unable to fashion any kind of intelligent answer to the questions I asked her. The time had come to intervene.

I bought the course books, gave her a pen and paper and told her to start writing, explaining that the act of writing things down helps to fix them in your brain. Lillie quickly produced a set of workable notes from which to revise and was surprised at how much of she could remember afterwards.

Of course, the Internet does have its place in education. It can be a valuable research tool and online learning has given thousands who might not otherwise have had the opportunity, a way to learn new skills. However, when it comes to exams and revising I believe there is still no substitute for a notebook and pen – and the absence of external distractions.

Now hold on, while I just update my status …!

*Full findings of the 2010 published in Computers in Human Behaviour.

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