It's no secret that laptop use in the classroom can distract students. But do laptops actually affect students' academic performance?
A recent study published in the Economics of Education Review says yes—and to a greater degree than you'd think.
To conduct the study, Richard Patterson, an assistant professor of economics at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and Robert Patterson, an associate professor of finance at Westminster College in Utah, analyzed the grades of about 5,600 students at a private liberal arts college.
The researchers found that students using laptops—usually in courses listed as either "laptop optional" or "laptop required"—scored between 0.27 and 0.38 grade points lower on a four-point GPA scale than their classmates who took notes without a laptop.
Translated into letter grades, the findings indicate that using a laptop to take notes in class could mean the difference between an A- and a B+, or a B- and a C+.
Though the researchers did not delve into the specific reasons why laptops bring down students' GPAs, they told Times Higher Education that Wi-Fi on laptops can provide ample opportunity for what they describe as "cyber-slacking."
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A study published earlier this year in SAGE Journals uncovered a similar finding: Students who used laptops to "take notes in class" spent over a third of class time browsing the internet for nonacademic reasons.
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Even in the cases where students were using their laptops to look up academic information to supplement the course work—something that many instructors think of as a benefit—the study found no improvement to final exam scores.
Distractions aside, taking notes on a laptop simply doesn't help students learn information in the same way as a pen and paper—in another study from the Association for Psychological Science, students who took notes on their laptops simply copied the class content verbatim.
Pen-and-paper students, on the other hand, took a moment to think about the content and paraphrase it before writing it down—which is a much more effective way to remember tough information (Grove, Times Higher Education, 4/4).
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