Students who have access to computer devices in the classroom do significantly worse than colleagues without them, a study has found.
In a study by MIT's School Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative, titled The Impact of Computer Usage on Academic Performance: Evidence from a Randomized Trial at the United States Military Academy, students whose classroom access to computer devices was prohibited performed better in exams.
726 undergraduates studying an introductory economics course at the United States Military Academy were randomly separated into three groups.
A control group was prohibited from using any laptops or tablets, another had access to tablets which were required to be flat on the table at all times, while the third was free to use tablets and laptops.
The researchers found that "permitting computers or laptops in a classroom lowers overall exam grades by around one-fifth of a standard deviation."
The reasons for this were unclear, however, as a number of factors could potentially contribute to the lower scores, including the ease at which students could be distracted by surfing the internet, lowered note-taking skills, and changes in the teacher's behaviour when interacting with students on a computer.
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 . Rather, our results relate only to classes where students have the option to use computer devices to take notes.
We further cannot test whether the laptop or ta blet leads to worse note taking, whether the increased availability of distractions for computer users (email, facebook, twitter, news, other classes, etc.) leads to lower grades , or whether professors teach differently when students are on their computers.
They conclude: "Given the magnitude of our results , and the increasing emphasis of using technology in the classroom, additional research aimed at distinguishing between these channels is clearly warranted." ®