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13 May 2016

Students Who Use Digital Devices in Class 'Perform Worse in Exams'

Students use laptop computers during a class.
Photo:  Paul Miller/AAP
"The researchers suggested that removing laptops and iPads from classes was the equivalent of improving the quality of teaching."

Students who use digital devices in class 'perform worse in exams'
by Richard Adams, Education editor, The Guardian, 11 May 2016

Study finds use of computers by students in lectures and seminars has ‘substantial negative effect’ on performance

Allowing students to use computers and the internet in classrooms substantially harms their results, a study has found.

The paper published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that students barred from using laptops or digital devices in lectures and seminars did better in their exams than those allowed to use computers and access the internet.

The researchers suggested that removing laptops and iPads from classes was the equivalent of improving the quality of teaching.

The study divided 726 undergraduates randomly into three groups in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years. The control group’s classrooms were “technology-free,” meaning students were not allowed to use laptops or tablets at their desk. Another group was allowed to use computers and other devices, and the third group had restricted access to tablets.

“The results from our randomised experiment suggest that computer devices have a substantial negative effect on academic performance,” the researchers concluded, suggesting that the distraction of an electronic device complete with internet access outweighed their use for note-taking or research during lessons.

The research had an unusual twist: the students involved were studying at the West Point academy in the US, where cadets are ruthlessly ranked by exam results, meaning they were motivated to perform well and may have been more disciplined than typical undergraduates.

But even for the cream of the US army’s future crop, the lure of the digital world appears to have been too much, and exam performance after a full course of studying economics was lower among those in classes allowed to use devices.

“Our results indicate that students perform worse when personal computing technology is available. It is quite possible that these harmful effects could be magnified in settings outside of West Point,” the researchers concluded.

“In a learning environment with lower incentives for performance, fewer disciplinary restrictions on distracting behaviour, and larger class sizes, the effects of internet-enabled technology on achievement may be larger due to professors’ decreased ability to monitor and correct irrelevant usage.”

Tom Bennett, founder of the ResearchED education group, who is leading a UK government-commissioned review of smartphone use in classrooms, noted the research found that even the brightest students appeared to be distracted by the presence of digital devices, in contrast to previous studies.

“Of course, nothing about this is conclusive and it needs to be read in the context of the undergraduate experience, but there are some interesting reflective points for all educators. Do you need to use tablets? How do you compensate for the possibility of distraction?” Bennett said.

Research published last year by the London School of Economics found that banning mobile phones affected school pupils according to their ability. “Banning mobile phones improves outcomes for the low-achieving students … and has no significant impact on high-achievers,” it concluded.

The new research is distinctive because it analysed the results of students in classroom conditions rather than as part of an artificial experiment.

“In contrast to the laboratory-style research, our study measures the cumulative effects of internet-enabled classroom technology over the course of a semester, as opposed to its impact on immediate or short-term recall of knowledge,” the researchers said.

“We want to be clear that we cannot relate our results to a class where the laptop or tablet is used deliberately in classroom instruction, as these exercises may boost a student’s ability to retain the material,” they added.

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/may/11/students-who-use-digital-devices-in-class-perform-worse-in-exams

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