There’s plenty of scientific evidence that writing by hand has benefits over using a computer to take notes. It has been shown to improve your ability to remember new information, for instance. However, a new study is one of the first to show long-term, real-world drawbacks to using a laptop in class, as The Washington Post reports.
In a study involving 726 students at West Point [PDF], students in randomly selected intro economics classes were banned from using computers during lectures, while others were allowed to use only tablets (placed flat so that professors could see them), and still others had no restrictions on technology use. The researchers found that the average final exam scores of students in classrooms that allowed computers were 18 percent lower than classrooms where technology wasn’t allowed. Though less than half of the students who were allowed to specifically use tablets actually did so at some point in the semester, that group’s scores were equally as low as those of the unfettered technology group.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that technology was particularly detrimental to students who began the course with higher grade point averages. They write that “a student in a classroom that prohibits computers is on equal footing with her peer who is in a classroom that allows computers but has a [higher] GPA” by .17 points.
Though any student can find a way to tune out during a lecture, West Point students are probably less likely than students at typical colleges to be surfing their inboxes during class, since classes are small and professor-student interaction is a big part of the curriculum. This suggests that either students on computers are less effective learners, or, possibly teachers change their behavior when faced with rows of laptops. Either way, you’re better off being in an old-school classroom.
[h/t The Washington Post]