Are iPod-banning schools cheating our kids?

Banning iPods could be like banning pencils or calculators

The Associated Press published an article last week about high schools increasingly banning iPods because some kids use them to cheat.

The article, reprinted in USA Today and hundreds of other newspapers, reported one example where a school "recently enacted a ban on digital media players after school officials realized some students were downloading formulas and other material onto the players."

I don't want to second-guess the individual decisions of specific teachers and school principals. But the ban does raise questions, the most interesting of which is: Should iPods or other handheld gadgets instead be "required" during tests?

What the iPod ban teaches kids

Most high school students prepare for tests by guessing what facts might be on the test, then trying to memorize those facts to maximize their grades. Hours after the test, those facts tend to be forgotten. This is a gross oversimplification, sure, but largely true.

How much of your high school history, science or math do you still retain to this day? If you're like me, the answer is practically zero.

In my case, the single most valuable thing I learned in high school was how to touch-type (thank you, Ms. Balish!). Skills, habits and experiences, more than temporarily memorized facts, are what turn us into adults who can learn.

So many college students I've met -- even at some of the nation's top universities -- are there because they have an aptitude for memorization. Many straight-A high school students have few interests, little curiosity and zero inclination toward intellectual discovery. Our system rewards the memorizers and punishes the creative thinkers.

An iPod, when used during tests, is nothing more than a machine that stores and spits out data. By banning iPods and other gadgets, we're teaching kids to actually become iPods -- to become machines that store and spit out data. Instead, we should be teaching them to use iPods -- to use that data and to be human beings who can think -- and leave data storage to the machines.

By banning iPods, we're preparing our kids for a world without the Internet, a world without iPods, a world without electronic gadgets that can store information. But is that the world they're going to live in?

What iPods teach kids

What are those iPod cheaters doing, really? They're creatively putting facts at their fingertips using ubiquitous technology in preparation for using those facts.

Isn't that a more realistic preparation for college, career and life than teaching memorization?

When I go into a meeting, deliver a presentation, write a column or develop a report, electronic gadgets and Internet-connected PCs are always part of the process. My ability to use those devices and my ability to think critically using the universe of facts always at hand determines to a large degree the quality of my work.

Memorizing information is valuable but not as valuable as the ability to find and use information. Yet we teach the low-value skill and ban the valuable one.

When kids take math tests, most teachers require them to "show their work" instead of doing problems "in their heads." Or they require calculators. Teachers are preparing students to function in a world where pencils and calculators are generally available. Banning iPods is like banning pencils or calculators.

What's the point of creating an unrealistic scenario that involves the total absence of widely available tools? Outside the classroom and after high school, a student can "always" have access to an iPod or an Internet-connected phone or computer.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mike Elgan

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?