New Study Shows That Laptops And Lectures Don’t Mix

by Elliot Chan | Research

Notebook computers have become more efficient and affordable in the past few years so it is no surprise that it is replacing those primitive coil paper notebooks. But the great debate continues, is the technology a beneficial asset or a hindering distraction?

In a recent study published in the Computer & Education journal, research subjects attended university-level lectures and completed a multiple-choice quiz in two experiments.

The first experiment was constructed to evaluate how multitasking affects the participant’s learning ability. The subjects were allowed to use their laptops to take notes during a meteorology lecture. But half were expected to complete a series of unrelated task on their computers during moments where they had spare time. The tasks were made to simulate normal activities that may distract students, such as online searches.

The second experiment required the subjects to take notes on pencils and paper, while others were on laptops. The objective of this part of the study was to see whether students working the old-fashion way would be distracted by the bright screens and tapping keys around them.

“We really tried to make it pretty close to what actually happens in the lectures, we found that lo and behold, the students who multitasked performed much worse on the final test and those who were seated around peers who were multitasking also performed much worse on the final test,” said Faria Sana, co-author of the study.

“So you might not be multitasking but if you have a clear view of someone else who is multitasking, your performance is still going to be impaired.”

Like a contagion, laptops usage affects more than just the user, but also their neighbouring classmates. The result surprised many of the participants, who didn’t expect their marks to drop from using their computer.

“A lot of students spend quite a big chunk of time in class doing things that are not related to the academic environment or aren't directly related to the course or the lecture,” Sana said. “We're hoping that based on these results, students will take responsibility for their actions.” Although the study is not advocating a laptop ban in class, it is advising students to think twice before using their computers during lectures for extracurricular activities—for the sake of their own education and the people around them.

Image: Macleans

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Elliot Chan

Elliot Chan

Elliot worked in the entertainment industry for four years before transitioning into professional writing and communications in 2012. He is the head of community content and strategy at Control, the digital manager for Asian Canadian literary publication Ricepaper Magazine, a content creator for Unhaggle, and the opinions editor at The Other Press. Elliot is a graduate of The Art Institute of... more

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