TORONTO - Laptops have replaced pen and paper for many post-secondary students but a Canadian study suggests using computers during lectures could be hurting their grades and lowering their classmates' marks.
For the study, published earlier this year in the journal Computers & Education, research subjects in two experiments were asked to attend a university-level lecture and then complete a multiple-choice quiz based on what they learned.
In the first experiment, which was designed to gauge how multitasking affects learning, all the participants used laptops to take notes during a lecture on meteorology. But half were also asked to complete a series of unrelated tasks on their computers when they felt they could spare some time. Those tasks — which included online searches for information — were meant to mimic what distracted students might do during class.
In the second experiment, some students were given pencils and paper to take notes during a lecture while others worked on laptops. Researchers wanted to observe if the students taking notes the old-fashioned way would be distracted by having computer screens around them.
Faria Sana, who co-authored the study with fellow doctoral student Tina Weston, said she expected lower test marks for students who were asked to multitask during the experiment, or were seated near other students using laptops. But the distraction effect was stronger than she hypothesized.
"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 Sana.
"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."
The students in the first experiment who were asked to multitask averaged 11 per cent lower on their quiz. The students in the second experiment who were surrounded by laptops scored 17 per cent lower.
"We really didn't think the effects would be this huge," Sana said. "It can change your grade from a B+ to a B-."
Sana also noted that the students who participated in the experiments said they didn't really expect their marks to suffer much from computer use in the classroom.
"At the end we gave a survey to all the students and what we found was that these peers who were seated around multitaskers had no idea they were being distracted, they didn't think the laptops were causing a distraction but based on the scores of their final test, they actually were," she said.
Seeing dozens of laptops in a classroom is now common, Sana said, as is spying some students on social networks, playing games or watching movies instead of paying attention.
While Sana and Weston are not calling for a ban on laptop use in classes, they do hope students consider that goofing off on their computers can affect their peers seating around them.
"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."
Earlier on HuffPost:
Bento-ware Lunch Boxes
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If the pen is mightier than the sword, then how powerful will your kid feel with a Ruler Pen? <a href="http://www.goldspot.com/" target="_blank">The Ruler Pen</a> is actually a multi-purpose device that can also be used as a pencil, highlighter, and a PDA stylus – ensuring that your child has the write stuff. <em>Acme 4FP Ruler Pen Multi Functional Pen, $39</em>
Wordlock Locker Padlock
Was that 35 left, 49 right, and 21 full circle or…doh?! Even if your child is a math genius, he or she will most likely forget their lock combination at one point or another. Remembering a single password such as BIEBER or 1DIRCTN is probably a lot easier and reduces the chances of getting the school janitor having to bust open your kid’s locker again. <a href="http://www.wordlock.com/" target="_blank">The Wordlock Padlock</a> offers 100,000 possible resettable word and letter combinations and is rated at 4047 pounds cut strength. All this durability and security is worthless, however, if you child simply uses their name as their locker password. <em>Wordlock Locker Padlock, $10</em>
Personalized Teacher's Gift Apple Key Chain
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All-In-One Camo Backpack With Cooler
A child’s backpack can be a bottomless pit of homework, slugs, snails, and puppy dog’s tails. The <a href="http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B0050P2Q70" target="_blank">O3 Kids Pre-School All-In-One Camo Backpack</a> can help organize even the busiest and cluttered student. The front pocket of the backpack is an insulated lunch cooler, so kids no longer have to tote an additional lunch bag or worry about getting apple juice all over their homework. <em>O3 Kids Pre-School All-In-One Camo Backpack With Cooler, $41</em>
Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case
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Epson WorkForce DS-30 Portable Scanner
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Students as young as grade school don’t hit the books anymore – they pound the keyboard. <a href="http://www.asus.com/vivo/en/vivoBook.htm" target="_blank">The ASUS VivoBook S550CA</a> is compact enough to still feel as light as a textbook, while giving students new tools such as a Windows 8 interface, touchscreen technology like a tablet, and a 2-second instant “On” power-up button for last minute studying. <em>ASUS VivoBook S550CA, $849</em>
So Young Lunch Boxes
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Panasonic Toaster Oven
Parents sending their teenagers away to college for the first time have three key concerns about campus life: 1) Over-partying 2) Under-studying 3) Undernourishment (“Honey, you look so thin, are you eating right?”). You can at least alleviate the stress of worry #3 with the <a href="https://panasonic.ca/english/appliance/kitchen/toasteroven/NBG110P.asp" target="_blank">Panasonic NB-G110P Toaster oven.</a> The mini-oven features near-infrared technology and far-infrared heating elements for quick cooking without preheating – so students can make it to class on time. Clean-up is a cinch (even without mom or dad!) with the removable crumb tray. The only problem is: The toaster oven might make your kid so popular on campus that they’ll be hosting baked parties in their dorm every night. <em>Panasonic NB-G110P Toaster oven, $150</em>
TANYA In Red Rucksack/Backpack
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Hunger Games Pencils
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3 Ring Binder Neoprene Tablet Cubbie
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Personalized Notebooks From Blurb.ca
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