Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Do all those laptops help?

In the Chronicle of Higher Education today there's a report questioning whether using a laptop computer improves student performance:

To the hundreds of colleges that require students to buy or lease laptops, it may seem like a no-brainer: Supply a student with a portable computer, and surely he or she will reap some educational benefits.

But a laptop's value isn't so cut and dried, according to a study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

The study, which is described as one of the first systematic efforts to figure out how students use their laptop computers, came up with the uncontroversial finding that the machines give users more flexibility in choosing where and when to study. But the researchers found no evidence that the computers improved students' work.

In fact, a report on the study says, students with laptops tend to spend "significantly more time" working on assignments than other students do. But that extra time is not reflected in their finished products: Students with laptops get roughly the same grades as those who trek to computer labs. Instead of saving time, the report argues, laptop users are often killing it -- firing off e-mail messages, sending instant messages, and surfing the Web.

Laptop-users in J676, comments?


At 11:41 PM, Blogger advee said...

I've become a dedicated laptop note-taker in class, despite the annoyance of packing up my computer to go to campus and unpacking it again when I return home. My notes are organized (ish), searchable and I don't lose them, like I used to with random paper-based notes I used to take. Definitely an advantage. When I write papers, I spend weeks buried in piles of books, and it's important for me to create this mess in a private space. Definitely better than when I was restricted to my desktop as an undergrad and had to listen to my chatty roommates on the phone (no cell phones then!) I was in (a different) class, taking notes on my computer at the back of the room (not normally where I sit, but I was late). I could see the sea of computer screens of students supposedly taking notes. Now this is a law class, and presumably filled with proto-professionals. And yet, I saw very few screens with notes on them. Email, football rankings, travel arrangements, instant messaging prevailed. And it was horribly distracting. And presumably not helping those people learn, either.

I cringe at banning laptops from classrooms because I find my life so much easier by taking notes on the laptop. Wireless could be disabled to prevent that random surfing in class, I guess, but I enjoy my ability to look things up in wikipedia, reference cases I don't know about, etc. I don't want to pay for other people's self-distractions.

I guess for me, it boils down to the fact that laptops, like all computers, are tools. They can be used for good or evil, and they can be used efficiently or inefficiently. If you leave your IM on while you're writing a paper, you can keep in touch with your friends, but you better bank on a couple more hours of writing. Technology can only help to a certain extent; laptops won't make better writers, of course. And for anyone who believes that...not even a laptop could make you smart.

At 7:06 AM, Blogger Greg D. said...

One of my two departments (I'll let you try to guess which) has instituted a new rule banning laptops from faculty meetings for just this reason -- the perception that some faculty were browsing their email while the meeting was going on (and while others were trying to argue a point). Interestingly, there was discussion at the same meeting of whether knitting should be banned as well for similar reasons. We talked in class about how the "gender divide" in terms of household/individual Internet access has largely evaporated, but I wonder what the gender (and class and race/ethnicity) divide in classroom and workplace laptop use is ...


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