Sunday 25 February 2018

Students using laptops and tablets in class perform worse in exams, study says

Students who take the courses receive over ten hours of live learning. Picture posed
Students who take the courses receive over ten hours of live learning. Picture posed

Cara McGoogan

Students that are allowed to use laptops and tablets in the classroom for note taking fare significantly worse in exams than those who are prohibited from using devices, a study claims.

Researchers found that use of devices had a "substantial negative effect" on university students' performance, and that removing technology from the classroom was "equivalent to improving the quality of the teacher".

Students that were permitted to use laptops and tablets scored 18 per cent worse in exams on average, according to the study.

The findings from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed students permitted to use devices in classrooms are easily distracted, spending time on the internet, messaging friends, checking email, or doing work for other classes.

It also found that students take less effective notes on laptops and tablets, and that professors engage differently with students when technology is present in the classroom. 

"Our results indicate that students perform worse when personal computing technology is available," said the researchers.

The news follows a study earlier this week that suggested reading on computer screens and smartphones affects people's ability to fully understand what they are reading.

Researchers analysed the exam results of 726 undergraduate economics students at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. They compared the results from classrooms in which laptops and tablets were banned, classrooms where use was unrestricted, and those in which students could use tablets, but only if they were laid flat on the table.

The results "suggest that computer devices have a substantial negative effect on academic performance," said the MIT researchers. "Our estimates imply that permitting computers or laptops in a classroom lowers overall exam grades by around one fifth.

The findings are in line with common fears that uninhibited computer-use in lectures and seminars can have a negative effect on learning. And the difference in non-military universities could be even worse.

"In a learning environment with lower incentives for performance, fewer disciplinary restrictions on distracting behaviour, and larger class sizes, the effects of internet-enabled technology on achievement may be larger," said the researchers.

A separate study last year from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that technology in school classrooms can hamper performance. In a survey of students from 64 countries, the OECD found that students' reading ability had declined in the countries that reported the most technology in the classroom.

Mobile phones have a similar effect on learning, with a ban on phones improving test scores by an average of six per cent, according to the London School of Economics.

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