Life is generally lived as an “open note” experience. Schools need to focus on preparing students for life, not just for academic tests conducted under artificial conditions that bear little resemblance to the real world outside academia. In line with this idea, rather than banning iPods, cell phones, laptops, and other types of technologies schools need to embrace them and find ways to adopt new assessments which can be taken by students with “open notes.”

The most challenging assessments and tests I took in graduate school classes were “open note.” The reason they were so challenging is they required thinking and analysis that went far beyond the knowledge and comprehension level. Many schools are fighting against digital culture in banning cell phones and iPods because they remain rooted in 19th century paradigms of education and assessment.

Today’s AP article “Schools banning iPods to thwart cheaters” is a case in point. According to the article:

Mountain View [Idaho] recently enacted a ban on digital media players after school officials realized some students were downloading formulas and other material onto the players. “A teacher overheard a couple of kids talking about it,” said Maybon. Shana Kemp, spokeswoman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said she does not have hard statistics on the phenomenon but said it is not unusual for schools to ban digital media players. “I think it is becoming a national trend,” she said. “We hope that each district will have a policy in place for technology — it keeps a lot of the problems down.”

Rather than adopting policies about technologies that are banned, school districts would be better advised to have their teachers craft new assessments. Our goal should not be, “How can we maintain our instructional and assessment paradigms from the 19th century today in our 21st century digital culture?” but rather “How can we craft authentic assessments our students cannot fake and they can take with open notes?” Open notes should include “open devices” like cell phones and iPods.

The problem with this proposal is that it is very challenging to write and use authentic assessments. It is much easier to test at the knowledge and comprehension level, and that is why we see so many teachers doing it. When you want to have statistical reliability and validity with an assessment, it becomes much more difficult to assess higher order thinking skills with “messy assessments” that include rubrics and subjective analysis. NCLB also encourages this simplified look at assessment, encouraging school districts, administrators and teachers around the United States to focus almost exclusively on multiple-choice, black and white forms of assessment that can be graded via a scantron.

Why should students have to memorize formulas? Let’s take on an example from mathematics. How many times have you had to use the quadratic formula in “real life” outside of school? If you have, were you prohibited by someone from being able to look up the formula?

Do you think oral communication skills are important in life? If you do (and you should) then why do some schools hardly emphasize assessments which include oral communication? Again, the reason is that many schools are still focused on maintaining their 19th century pedagogic culture rather than preparing students for real life.

Let’s put an end to useless memorization and tradition in schools, and instead ask students to actually apply and use the knowledge and skills they are supposed to be learning in real contexts. That is what we do out here in the business world. It’s time schools stopped acting like the calendar still reads “1899.”

For more on this line of thinking, listen to what Roger Shank shared at the SITE conference several weeks ago. (Thanks to AHF for this link!)

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