When I look out at my classes these days I see a sea of laptops, with a growing number of tablets, but nary a pad of paper. I'm far too much a "live and let live" guy to seriously consider banning laptops as some of my purportedly "liberal" colleagues have done, but I do wonder whether my students are doing themselves a disservice, as Jonathan Adler explains:
Scientific American reports on new research showing how the use of laptops in the classroom results in less memory and comprehension of covered materials. (This research was also covered in The Atlantic last month.) Here’s the abstract of the new study:
Taking notes on laptops rather than in longhand is increasingly common. Many researchers have suggested that laptop note taking is less effective than longhand note taking for learning. Prior studies have primarily focused on students’ capacity for multitasking and distraction when using laptops. The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.
It’s worth stressing that in this research the laptops were not connected to the Internet. This means the results are not due to students spending time checking e-mail or surfing the Web. In most settings, such distractions will only impair performance even more. Indeed, prior research has found that laptop multitasking impairs learning and can even have negative effects on non-laptop users sitting nearby. In other words, laptop users may not be only hurting themselves.
Hmmm. Externalities? Maybe I should rethink a ban.