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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Don’t take your laptop to class

Bringing a laptop to class is a mistake, writes Cindi May in Scientific American, citing Michigan State research.

Although computer use during class may create the illusion of enhanced engagement with course content, it more often reflects engagement with social media, YouTube videos, instant messaging, and other nonacademic content. This self-inflicted distraction comes at a cost, as students are spending up to one-third of valuable (and costly) class time zoned out, and the longer they are online the more their grades tend to suffer.

Researchers tracked the internet use and academic performance of 84 students for a semester.

First, participants spent almost 40 minutes out of every 100-minute class period using the internet for nonacademic purposes, including social media, checking email, shopping, reading the news, chatting, watching videos, and playing games. . . . In contrast with their heavy nonacademic internet use, students spent less than 5 minutes on average using the internet for class-related purposes (e.g., accessing the syllabus, reviewing course-related slides or supplemental materials, searching for content related to the lecture).

Boredom didn’t seem to explain why some students used the internet so much, writes May. In addition, students were accurate in estimating their internet use and “had a good sense of whether their internet use had a disruptive effect on their academic performance.’

It’s possible heavy users are social media addicts, May speculates. “In addition to the nearly 40 minutes students spent surfing the web, they also reported using their phones to text for an additional 27 minutes. It’s a wonder they learned anything at all!”

“I am in a constant battle with cellphones and laptops for the attention of my students in the classroom,” writes James M. Lang, a professor of English at Assumption College, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Check out his series, The Distracted Classroom.

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