- A new study out of MIT shows students who use laptops, tablets or other digital devices in class perform at a significantly lower rate on exams than peers who are not permitted to use devices in class.
The researchers found across a no-devices control group, a group that had restricted access to tablets and a third group with unrestricted use of digital devices, those students who had any level of access to devices performed at an average of 18% of a standard deviation lower on an exam than those with no access.
- Possible reasons for the decline include student distraction, differences in the way professors engage students based on whether they’re using devices, and a decreased proficiency in notetaking for students who use computers in class vs. those who take notes with pen and paper.
The study was conducted at West Point Academy, which is marked by tough discipline standards and incentives for performance. The researchers note “these harmful effects could be magnified in settings … with lower incentives for performance, fewer disciplinary restrictions on distracting behavior, and larger class sizes.”
Researchers from Princeton and UCLA recently found similar negative effects around information retention when taking notes on a computer, versus taking them down by hand. Longform notetaking, they said, requires an extra cognitive step of processing the material to be more selective in what to actually write — since students can’t write as fast as they type, they are less inclined to try to get everything down verbatim than they would be taking notes on a laptop or tablet.
As institutions continue to try to grapple with the most effective way to integrate technology in the classroom, it is important to consider some of the negative effects of a ubiquitous BYOD on student learning. Professors, too, should consider ways to engage students away from the devices, promoting more interactive lecture styles.