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Friday, February 02, 2007

Proving the obvious - laptop edition

I like technology but I think technology in the classroom has its limits, especially on the demand (student) side of the equation. Clicking away on the keyboard while typing notes is not a very good way to internalize the information being presented - think of how little you remember of the documents you typed in typing class or how much information a legal transcriber actually remembers.

Laptops and PDAs might have their roles in certain classes, but for the most part I am not a big fan. Evidently, the idea that laptops can distract from the learning process has now been "confirmed" by a new study at Winona State in Minnesota, as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Instead of zeroing in on the lecture, students who brought laptops to class spent considerable time e-mailing, surfing the Internet and playing games, posing a "significant" distraction to both users and fellow students.

Further, the study found a relationship between laptop use in class and a weaker understanding of course material and a lower overall course performance; the students with laptops earned an average grade of five per cent lower than if they hadn't brought the computers.

It isn't immediately clear from the newspaper account whether the study was done in a "sophisticated" manner. One assumes that the five percent drop in average grades is a statistically significant but not a spurious relationship. However, without access to the original study (which I might yet find today) it is difficult to tell.

Again, I would be a bit more surprised if the laptops led to a five percent increase in average grades, although that might depend more on the particular class in which the laptops were used: programming C++ or English literature?

more here

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