Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Laptops in Lectures - the ultimate distraction?
One of the often trivial but none-the-less interesting things I subscribe to is “The Daily Stat” from Harvard Business Review. It is often light hearted, always entertaining – and occasionally serious. A few days ago something of particular note worthiness was waiting in my in box.
The piece that took my fancy was a study by Krasushaar and Novak who examined what college students use their lap tops for during lessons. They found that on AVERAGE each user generates 65 new screen windows per lecture – and a whopping 62% of items viewed are NOT related to the lecture. The piece also discussed the nature of short term memory and transfer to long term memory (or “learning”) as the lay person would call it. Not surprisingly, distractions interfere with this process. The study found that there was a relationship between the rate of access of non-related material with lower test achievement in that subject. In simple terms – surfing the web during lectures for anything other than related material negatively impacts on student achievement.
Read the full text of the study here;
It has become popular to talk of multitasking in today’s world. Indeed, many students believe that they can do so during lectures without impact. Whilst this might be a popular belief it is, perhaps unfortunately, untrue. A study by Ellis, Daniels and Jauregui of college level business students found that those who text in class have, on average, significantly lower exams scores than those who don’t. Read the details here;
A rather academic piece by Foerd, Knowlton and Poldrack discussing the impact of distractions in the laboratory can be found here.
The list of studies that are questioning the notion of “multitasking” is already a significant one. It is important to draw a distinction here between technology use that aligns to lecture material and that which does not. Research and common sense are in agreement – learning requires concentration and attention to the task. Technology can obviously assist in this. But it can also distract. If this is true at college level then we can speculate, albeit with some confidence, that younger users of technology would be at least equally distracted. By extension, teachers using laptops and smart phones in class need to have procedures in place to ensure that their students are on task.
The solution might seem naive – but engaging lessons and group work that requires active participation from students in the room would go a long way to address the issue.