(The Center Square) – While some teenagers are discouraged from excessive cell phone use, a federally funded study in Missouri will use the technology to help high school students with various learning disabilities or behavioral challenges.
Approximately 50 Jefferson City, Hallsville and Fulton public high school students will be part of a $519,939 research project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Sara Estrapala, an assistant research professor at the University of Missouri College of Education and Human Development, will be conducting the four-year study.
Estrapala began her career as a high school paraeducator, working with students with autism, Down syndrome and other learning and behavioral challenges. She observed how having self awareness and autonomy could help students achieve better behavioral outcomes.
“The whole idea of self regulation is that you learn and understand yourself well enough to know where you want to be in the future,” Estrapala said in an interview with The Center Square. “Then, you can break your actions down incrementally and understand if you are actually taking the steps to get where you want to be.”
Students will set goals on how they want to improve in the classroom, such as following a teacher’s directions or paying better attention to instruction. Students will use I-Connect, a cellphone app, to monitor and evaluate progress toward their achieving their goal.
“And what’s really unfortunate with students with disabilities is often they have a learned helplessness,” Estrapala said. “There’s an assumption that they can’t do these things independently – setting up their own intervention or their own self-monitoring plans. It’s done for them and it can enable learned helplessness. They think they can’t do it because they’ve never had the opportunity to try.”
The grant helps researchers early in their career to receive mentoring as they conduct a study. Estrapala said her grant proposal was her first application attempt and only about 10% of projects get funding.
“It’s super competitive and for this particular grant, you’re only eligible during the first five years after your doctoral or postdoctoral program,” Estrapala said.
Estrapala said there’s a growing amount of research supporting the cell phone app to improve student attention in classes and reducing problem behaviors.
“Is it a one-size-fits-all for all students? Absolutely not,” Estrapala said. “There are some students who might be over distracted by self-monitoring. There might be some who are distracted by having technology. But the overwhelming majority of students who use this have dramatic increases in their productivity and engagement.”
Estrapala expressed gratitude for the government funding to conduct research on how students might lead themselves toward overcoming educational and behavioral challenges with the help of a cell phone app.