Use and abuse of laptops in class

Imagine that you are sitting in a lecture hall trying to take notes and you see a person nearby using their laptop to surf the web. For those couple of seconds, your attention is diverted to their “recently added photos” on Facebook, their inbox, Twitter account, that college basketball game—anything but what you are supposed to be learning. We’ve all been there. On the other hand, however, we have all been on the other side of this scenario as well; sitting in lecture, distracted by a multitude of other things online rather than listening and taking notes on our laptops.

It is for this reason that many professors have begun to advocate against laptop usage in college classrooms unless there is a specific need for it. An article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education discussed how University of Colorado at Boulder Associate Dean for Education Diane Sieber identified 17 students in one of her classes who were using laptops most frequently. She found that after administering the first test, those 17 students did 11 percent worse on average than the students who were not regularly hidden behind their laptops.

Here at Geneseo, professor of art history Lynette Bosch has started to eliminate laptop usage from her 100-level and 200-level classes, as they generally tend to be lecture-style. “I use them very much in 300-level classes,” she said in an email interview. “I think they are great for some classes and projects where they enhance teaching and learning and disruptive for teaching and learning in other types of courses”.

In lecture-style classes, it is very easy for a student to become distracted, as there tends to be one professor and a large amount of students. Coinciding with this notion is the 2003 Cornell University study “The Laptop and the Lecture: The Effects of Multitasking in Learning Environments.”

This research allowed half a lecture hall unrestricted access to their laptops while the other half was asked to keep their computers closed. Much like Sieber’s study, the results showed that the students who were either distracted on their laptops or used them to take notes performed worse on a quiz administered immediately after the class.

According to a New Yorker article, “Recent Princeton University and University of California studies took this into account while investigating the difference between note-taking on a laptop and note-taking by hand.” Once again, the study found that although the students on laptops were able to record more information with precision and at a higher rate than the hand note takers, the students using laptops again performed worse than the students who were not.

If you spend more time fooling around on your laptop in classes than you do taking notes, consider ditching the computer in class. Not only will this improve your ability to pay attention, but it will also protect those around you from being distracted by your screen.