Surprise! Students Are Much Better Off Without Laptops In Class

Dawn Papple

Laptops are considered a must-have item among college students. Though a laptop can be crucial for work done outside the classroom, new research from Michigan State University indicates that laptops have no business being used in the actual classroom.

It turns out that when college kids bring their laptops to class, they are usually tempted to check their social media accounts and watch YouTube. A laptop with internet access is more distracting to college students than it is helpful. They may aim to bring the laptop to class to view online slides or take notes, but MSU scientists say that laptops do not actually enhance classroom learning. Reportedly, students spend up to one-third of the class period distracted when they bring a laptop to class.

Susan Ravizza and her fellow researchers asked students to voluntarily log in to a proxy server for at least half of their 15 class periods. The researchers tracked their internet use during class time and compared it to academic performance. There were 84 students that were tracked in all. The researchers looked at what sites the students visited and how much time they spent online. The researchers also asked students to estimate how much time they thought that they spent online during their class periods and to judge how much it affected their learning. The researchers even obtained the students' ACT scores and exam scores. Finally, the researchers also examined the self-reported interest and motivation for the class that students felt.

Scientific American summarized the team's findings.

"First, participants spent almost 40 minutes out of every 100-minute class period using the internet for nonacademic purposes, including social media, checking email, shopping, reading the news, chatting, watching videos, and playing games. This nonacademic use was negatively associated with final exam scores, such that students with higher use tended to score lower on the exam."

"Given the relatively small amount of time students spent on academic internet use, it is not surprising that academic internet use was unrelated to course performance. Thus students who brought their laptops to class to view online course-related materials did not actually spend much time doing so, and furthermore showed no benefit of having access to those materials in class."

Also, the students weren't on social media and YouTube during class simply out of boredom. Said another way, the social media use was not a symptom of a lack of interest in the class. While students who had low interest in the class did have lower exam scores, it didn't account for the inversely proportionate relationship between laptop-based classroom internet use and exam grades. Plus, the researchers said that the issue was also not that the students lost track of time. The researchers said that the study participants accurately reported how much time they spent online while in class. The students also reported that their internet use was disruptive to their class performance, Scientific American reported.

"It is possible that the internet use during class reflects habit or even an inability to inhibit the disruptive behavior. Use of social networking sites can be addictive for some, and the amount of time students spent online in this study suggests their attachment to technology was significant. In addition to the nearly 40 minutes students spent surfing the web, they also reported using their phones to text for an additional 27 minutes. It's a wonder they learned anything at all!"

An earlier study out of Princeton and the University of California also found that using a laptop in class to take notes led to a tendency to transcribe the professor's lectures word-for-word rather than actually processing the information before organizing it in a notation, like students who hand-write their notes usually do.

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