The Impact of Computer Usage on Academic Performance

May 17, 2016 in Education

For over a decade research has shown that allowing students to use computers to take notes in the classroom has negative effects, including a lower quality of notes and reduced information retention, as described here, here and here.  Even students who don’t use computers are so distracted by the screens of students who are that they are impacted, too, as described here.

Now researchers at MIT have the results of a randomized trial that they conducted with the United States Military Academy (West Point) that reinforces the finding of previous studies.  The study “prohibited computer devices in randomly selected classrooms of an introductory economics course at the United States Military Academy. Average final exam scores among students assigned to classrooms that allowed computers were 18 percent…lower than exam scores of students in classrooms that prohibited computers. Through the use of two separate treatment arms, we uncover evidence that this negative effect occurs in classrooms where laptops and tablets are permitted without restriction and in classrooms where students are only permitted to use tablets that must remain flat on the desk surface.” (emphasis mine)

I still don’t prohibit computers in my classroom, mostly because sometimes the easiest way to answer a question is to go online and show an application or a fixture cut sheet, and my students follow along to bookmark the sites.  However, I do make students aware of the pitfalls of computer use by including the above links in my syllabus.  Most of them seem to respond to the information by limiting their computer use and using a paper and pen.