I really hate when popular media report research findings with headlines like this: “Students’ use of laptops in class found to lower grades”. Too many people won’t get past that blanket statement, never questioning the kind of superficial research behind it.
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.
The results were pretty much what you might expect.
Those students using laptops to take notes who were also asked to “complete a series of unrelated tasks on their computers when they felt they could spare some time”, such as search for information, did worse on the quiz than those who didn’t do any of that stuff.
In a second part of the experiment, those who took paper and pencil notes while surrounded by other students working on computers did even worse.
Of course, the implicit assumption here is that lectures are an important vehicle for learning, not to mention that a multiple-choice quiz is a valid assessment of that learning. And that use of the technology was the primary factor in the low scores.
I wonder how the results would have differed if the researchers had divided the subjects into two groups, those who were interested in the subject matter, and those who could care less and only were participating for the twenty bucks.
Ok, without any kind of research to back it, I’m going hypothesize that the single biggest factor in student learning is some kind of connection to the material. With or without a laptop.