A new study links spending time online in class with worse test scores, even among the most intelligent and motivated students.
Researchers studied laptop use in an introductory psychology course and found the average time spent browsing the internet for non-class-related purposes was 37 minutes. Students spent the most time on social media, reading email, shopping for things like clothes, and watching videos.
And their academic performance suffered. Internet use was a significant predictor of students’ final exam score even when their intelligence and motivation were taken into account, says lead author Susan Ravizza, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University.
“The detrimental relationship associated with non-academic internet use,” Ravizza says, “raises questions about the policy of encouraging students to bring their laptops to class when they are unnecessary for class use.”
The research took place in a one-hour, 50-minute lecture course with 507 students taught by Kimberly Fenn, an associate professor of psychology and study coauthor. In all, 127 students agreed to participate in the study, which involved logging onto a proxy server when the students went online. Of those participants, 83 checked into the proxy server in more than half of the 15 course sessions during the semester and were included in the final analysis.
ACT scores were the measure of intelligence. To measure motivation to succeed in class, the researchers used an online survey sent to each participant when the semester was over.
Interestingly, using the internet for class purposes did not help students’ test scores. But Ravizza says she wasn’t surprised. “There were no internet-based assignments in this course, which means that most of the ‘academic use’ was downloading lecture slides in order to follow along or take notes.”
Previous research, she adds, has shown that taking notes on a laptop is not as beneficial for learning as writing notes by hand. “Once students crack their laptop open, it is probably tempting to do other sorts of internet-based tasks that are not class-relevant.”
In her courses, Ravizza says she has stopped posting lecture slides before class. Instead, she waits until the week before the exam to upload them so there is no reason for students to bring a laptop to class.
“I now ask students to sit in the back if they want to bring their laptop to class so their internet use is not distracting other students,” she says.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study appears in the journal Psychological Science.
This text is published here under a Creative Commons License.
Author: Andy Henion-Michigan State University
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