Laptops have been commonplace in college classrooms for many years now. Students bring their laptops to follow along with a lecture as well as to take notes; during that time it is not unusual for a student to multitask and check email or visit social media sites. What effects, if any, are these seemingly innocuous distractions having on student grades?
Students involved in the first experiment were asked to bring laptops and use them to take notes during a lecture on meteorology. Half of the students were also given instructions to complete unrelated tasks with their laptops when they felt they had time to spare.The tasks included searching online for information and were meant to mimic what students might do during a normal class.
In a second experiment, select students were given paper and pencil to take notes, while other students with laptops were instructed to flip between taking notes and checking email or facebook. Students were then positioned in the classroom so that half of those using pencil and paper were able to view the screens of those using laptops.
The results of these experiments were surprising. In the first experiment students who only used their laptops to take notes fared, on average, 11% better than those who were asked to perform unrelated tasks during the lecture. The students in the second experiment who were in view of students with laptops performed 17% worse than those without distractions.
In both cases students were asked to gauge the effects they think the distractions had on them. Students in the first experiment claimed that multitasking only somewhat hindered their learning and their peers learning would be barely hindered. Similarly, the students of the second experiment felt that they were only slightly distracted and that their learning was barely impacted.
The researchers of the study aren’t calling for a ban on laptops in the classroom. They only wish to bring attention to students, that performing distracting actions in class not only impacts your own grade, but the grades of those around you as well.