Last month, the Nantucket Public School system introduced a computer-based version of the English MCAS for high schoolers, and in May they will take the Math section. As the son of a bookseller, I feel an instinctual aversion to any shift from paper to technology; however, as a “young’n”, I also feel a bit of excitement when it comes to integrating technology into our daily lives. Despite these conflicting emotions, that latter feeling sputters out when it comes to the classroom. As much as I love using technology for mindless distractions when I should really be doing Khan Academy, I have found that physical paperwork eventually incites the most thought-provoking and meaningful work, which is ultimately the goal of a productive classroom. Not only that, but according to The Scientific American, “Whether they realize it or not, people often approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.”
Say you were to eat a nice turkey dinner on a theoretical table made entirely of M&Ms. A ridiculous hypothetical, I know, but hear me out. Yes, the turkey dinner may appear more sustaining, but there is still an ever-present subconscious desire to have a bite of the sugary, chocolatey M&Ms — at least for me. This same idea could be applied to taking a test on a computer. We have used computers in our daily lives so often for the sole purpose of quick, easy, immediate pleasure, that even if we were to use them for a serious purpose such as taking a test, we will still have that subconscious association of the computer with that dopamine rush, thus further distracting us from the topic at hand. Of course, that is my personal speculation, and the turkey dinner analogy man must first be steadily consuming M&Ms before sitting down to eat this dinner in order to establish a predisposition equivalent to everyday technology use, but my point still stands.
Approaching such a critical part of your transition to higher education with unfamiliar circumstances would no doubt affect performance, but that is not my only problem with computer-based testing. Not only are scores lower on average upon first exposure to online examinations, but according to the New York Times, “Closer study has shown that scores drop only among students who do not use computers for everyday schoolwork, said Tracy Weeks, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.” I believe that there is already a systemic problem with obtaining resources for preparing for tests such as the SAT, and the introduction of crucial practice methods that may not be available to all students will certainly negatively target those who may not have such access.
Sure there is probably some part of me that is a grumpy old man who is already indulging in the “back in my day” colloquialism that we all know and love, but I do think there is a certain virtue in picking up a physical piece of text and interacting with it tactically. Furthermore, if the abandonment of such virtues has the potential to negatively impact a student’s progression into the next steps of their journey into the adult world, I see no reason to deviate.
By Owen Hudson