After Being Educated About Negative Effects, Students Stop Using Laptops In Class

from the education-works?-imagine-that! dept

A while back, we noted that some professors at my school, Georgetown, were joining the trend of banning laptops in classrooms, pointing out that it was probably a futile attempt to force students to pay attention — distracted, disinterested students have been and always will be a fact of life. However, one professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder has decided to actually educate her students about why using laptops in classes is a bad choice. Diane Sieber noted which students used laptops the most and, after their test, informed them that they had done 11 percent worse than analog-only students. The number of laptop users dropped and their scores went up. While Professor Sieber could have just as easily banned laptops, by treating her students like capable adults, she has produced a win-win.

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Comments on “After Being Educated About Negative Effects, Students Stop Using Laptops In Class”

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hegemon13 says:

Not for everyone

And for those that don’t abuse it, it is not a bad choice, and is still an option. I like this professor. Good to hear stories like these.

I know I could not have used a laptop in class, especially an online one. I’d have gone in with the best of intentions and ended up surfing the web instead of paying attention. One moment of boredome would lead to my mind wandering, which would lead to me wanting to “just check something quick,” which would lead to surfing through the rest of class. I know me, and that’s why I used a paper notebook.

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Not for everyone

I just don’t have that same problem. I “have” ADHD and can do a gazillion and one things in the 30 seconds it takes for some tired professor to explain something I caught onto weeks beforehand. If I hear something I don’t recognize, I tune into that source of information.

If we had laptops when I was in college, I’d have gotten much more done and been less likely to drop out from the sheer boredom that college induces in people due to the regurgitation style of “learning”. But at the same time, I knew more about my field(computers/electronics) than some of the professors holding Masters degrees and have had several say as much, so the regurgitation, to me, was like eating something, regurgitating it, eating the regurgitation, regurgitating THAT and then doing yet one more cycle of eating/regurgitating. Yeah, as gross as that would be if it were food, it is worse to me if it’s knowledge that’s being done that way.

I found the idea of the movie “Accepted” to be pretty close to how I’ve always thought a college should be: Learn exactly what you want to. I don’t need to learn classic literature if I want to design satellite equipment. The idea would help for those wanting to get into computer programming, etc. since the field changes sooo fast that the books you study from are 4 years out of date by the time you actually get to start on them.

Sooo, maybe they simply need to change how (some) college works instead of changing how students think. Isn’t that akin to the retarded teachers who want their students on Ritalin instead of learning to teach at their(usually extremely heightened) level? I mean, let’s give the *teachers* the Ritalin and see how that changes the game.

Alligator says:

Re: Not for everyone

I like this approach because most students seem to resent laptop bans because they don’t think using a laptop in class hurts their performance. Too bad this wouldn’t work in law school, where the only test (and thus the only grade) comes at the end of the semester. Law professors seem to be agonizing over whether to ban laptops. Ok, may not agonizing but they appear pretty torn between hoping that the class would be more engaged and worrying about paternalism.

Joel Coehoorn says:

Laptops can help, too

When I was in school I managed to acquire an old, barely functional laptop in time for my senior year. We’re talking a 486/windows3.1 system here when Windows XP had just come out. Sometimes I used the laptop, sometimes I was not able to because it didn’t work unless I could plug it into a wall outlet near my seat.

I estimate the laptop got me an extra letter grade in each class where I used, for two big reasons:
1. I can type much faster than I can write, so I could take better notes.
2. In classes with… shall we say very boring lectures I was able to open solitaire to help keep myself alert. Even though I was playing a game I was able to absorb more of what the professor was saying than if I’d had nothing else to do, because I could devote just the most bored part to the game. …move a card now and then, and switch back to notepad as needed to jot down something important.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Laptops can help, too

Re big reasons:
(1) You could have learned some sort of shorthand — abbreviations. It doesn’t matter that only you would be able to read them, ’cause (a) they’re primarily for you anyway; and (b) over time you’d refine / perfect them to more std, if you wanted to. (You sometimes hear of ppl who can telegraph 100 words/min, but that’s accomplished thru the use of abbreviations (shorthand).)

(2) W/o the laptop you could always bring a deck of cards and do the same thing, if that was your prescription for staying alert. (I didn’t have one, so managed to actually sleep thru a few of my boring classes.)


Eric the Grey says:

Depends on how you use them.

I’ve only used my laptop in class once. The class was almost all lecture, and the professor used power-point for most of them. I re-typed the power-point into word, for later review and I fully feel it helped me retain the material better because I was going through them at least one more time.

I was also able to expand on what the power-point presentations, with the additional side discussions from class, which only added to my notes. I could not have done nearly as much with pen and paper since my hands cramp after writing for more than 5 minutes. Hopefully, more professors take this tact when approaching students who wish to use them.

I would be willing to put money on the fact that the students that do worse when using their laptops in class, are not taking notes, but surfing.


interval says:

I’ll bet you that the single biggest factor for the lower scores is that the digital students didn’t do as much studtying; “I have a computer, I can study less if at all.”

I did the same thing when I was in school, sort of. In my day it was mini computers. And when I did sit down to study I ended up using the multi-campus network communication application. (This was before the web.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Paying attention, not the laptop

I discovered my marks went up when I stopped taking notes. I think my better performance came because my attention was better focused on the lecture. The laptop isn’t the problem per se, but the distraction that it provides is greater than the distraction from writing on a piece of lined three hole paper.

lordmorgul says:

Re: Paying attention, not the laptop

I fully agree about stopping the constant note taking. It is not the laptop, nor the paper notes, but the lack of honest concentration on UNDERSTANDING the material, not just on COLLECTING the material.

College students who take perfectly complete notes often cannot explain to you what any of it means, or why the professor was using those examples. It is far better to keep your attention on the subject, understand the examples, and use your extra attention on thinking beyond where the professor is taking the material. Why limit yourself to what your professor wants to present?

At the same time, it is vitally important for professors to PROVIDE notes of their lectures. It is beyond ignorant for a professor to require their students to take their own notes, to provide no download for powerpoint presentations, or to be condescending to students who ask for it. This is laziness on the professor’s part, not on the student’s!

There is too much information out there for you to hold it all in your head, or to keep sorted in your own notes. College classes should introduce you to material, and METHOD of studying. When you leave school you will continue to study your entire life… or you will be OBSOLETE a month later. This is cold hard fact. All the notes you can take will provide nothing useful for your career if you do not know how to listen, understand, and expand on ideas presented to you. Copying them down to paper is what printers are for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Back in the stone age

Back in my day (the stone age), we had to chisel our notes on stone tablets. Later, when I was older, I used pen and paper. I found that writing the notes made it much easier for me to remember them — I rarely, if ever, referred to my hand-written notes. For years, I could remember most of them verbatim (I can still recall notes I took in 7th grade, and I’m over 50 now). If I had used a laptop, I don’t think I would have retained nearly as much. (Of course, back then I would have had to invent a laptop first. Or carry around a PDP-11.)

Anonymous Coward says:

How about NOTHING?!

I find that I actually did better in classes where I took no notes. No notepad, no laptop, no pencil, no pen… Nothing. I found that if I had a notepad, I would doodle instead of paying attention, and if I had a laptop I’d write e-mails or surf the internet or play solitaire.

When I have nothing in front of me to distract me, I would actually pay attention to what the prof was talking about and saw my grades increase.

I decided to test this theory. For the first half of the quarter I brought a notepad to my classes and took notes. I noted the grade I got on homework and the midterm. For the second half of class I brought nothing. The result was an average of 10% increase in grades in both homework and the class finals.

Obviously, this won’t work for everyone, because some people need to read notes to study… I typically just did a quick read-through of whatever notes my friends took the day before the exams.

That being said, I’m not the greatest student in the world, but since I’ve stopped taking notes, my GPA has gone up from an average of 2.8 to a 3.4.

gyffes (profile) says:

There is an Art

to note-taking, as well as a skill.

While I can type WAY faster than I can write, and my typed notes are WAY more legible, I know that people trained in the Cornell note-taking system (essentially, divide page into 3, write notes in one section, keywords on another, use the 3rd for review … I think. Lookitup, it’s worthwhile.) are way more effective at taking USEFUL notes with far fewer written words.

I think the problem with typing, even for a fast typist, is that too much brain goes into the typing/transcribing and we’re not actually picking up enough of what gets said. And our speed allows us to type more of what gets said instead of focusing on keywords/concepts as a note-taker would. At least, that’s my supposition as to the disparity in grades among the 2 groups.

ehrichweiss says:

Re: There is an Art

You never did “mind mapping” AKA “spider notes”??? I found those FAR more efficient at giving a full visual picture of a subject since you can show relationships between two or more different sub-subjects. I can spend half an hour mind mapping a subject and be able to write a massive book on the subject afterwards. This was the ONLY(and I mean ONLY) useful thing I learned in college(the book was Becoming a Master Student and I believe they still use it today, or I should hope). I later read about it from Tony Buzan and started using it again.

TX CHL Instructor (profile) says:

I taught programming classes...

Back when you could actually make a living teaching C++ programming, I found in one of my classes that several of the students were playing FreeCell. They were the same students that did poorly in the labs, and I also noticed that I did not get very good reviews from that class.

From then on, whenever I set up a class, I uninstalled all of the games on the systems when I set them up. The students did better, and I got better reviews.

TX CHL Instructor (profile) says:

Re: Re: I taught programming classes...

I have been a CHL instructor for a long time, overlapping the time I was teaching C++ courses. I have also done a number of other things. Right now, my “day job” is writing high-performance graphics tools for military applications, but lately, my CHL classes have roughly doubled my income, thanks to the Chicago Politician with the Blank Resume currently living in the White House.

I have also been a professional violinist, a short-order cook, a bartender, a chemist, an electronics technician, a nuclear reactor operator/sub sailor, a computer store owner/operator, a tax preparer, and a truck driver, although not in that order. And that’s not a complete list.

TW Burger (profile) says:

Student's Choices

I taught college courses for a while and I let the students do anything they wanted: tape recorders, proxy note takers, not showing up at all and getting it all from the course materials.

The results were always the same: Those that put effort into the understanding the material and did the assignments achieved good marks and those that did not did poorly or failed.

The computers are not causing the students to not pay attention. It is simply that the students do not have the self discipline to not facebook (I accept that, like ‘party’, it’s a verb now), twitter, and IM during the lectures.

I applaud the effort of Diane Sieber to train students to pay attention. However, I suspect her job performance evaluation is based on student performance and this is her motivation. More students not failing and better marks equals more money and a better standing for the school.

Many instructors are in positions where the job is to get as much information and understanding into student’s minds as possible and those that will not do the work are left to themselves. They do not have the luxury of providing self discipline training to students that attend college for the fun of it rather than as the basis of a career.

Anonymous Coward says:

not listening

“I am sure these kids weren’t using their laptops to take notes… more like counterstriking or facebooking.”

Why would someone go to class to play games/burn time in that fashion if they could just go to the library or stay home?

Not sure about your college, but in mine almost all of the teachers didn’t care at all if you didn’t show to class, the posted all of their power points/quiz times/test times/projects/etc on line and almost no in-class bonus points.

Teachers aren’t there to babysit if you show or not.

Common Sense says:

Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that giving someone a PROPER EDUCATION can help them make better, more appropriate decisions on their own, without the need of LEGAL REGULATION????? Come on, don’t bullshit me.


I’d bet the same would work for Sex and Drug education as well, if only the leaders of the free world weren’t afraid of everyone having a proper education and making appropriate decisions.

Josh (profile) says:

I always get a kick out of these stories...

I’m a 31 year old first time college student. I started taking classes at my local community college about 3 years ago when I got fired, my own fault, from the job I was working. During the start of my second year I got hired to work as a contractor on the local naval base. I am now at a point where I will be achieving my first A.S. by the end of this year.

I said all of that to preface my comments about teachers. I have found it amazing what some teachers, at the college level only, feel their role is in my education. See, I’m paying to attend college and am not being forced, i.e. standard K-12 education, to go to school. So in my opinion the teachers need to treat thier classes a bit more like adults. Especially in a community college, and especially one like the one I attend that has at least half of the student body being adults that work full time at the naval base and just want to further their education. But I always find that some teachers think that it is their job to “force” me to learn the content or “force” me to be in the class. I always know that I will enjoy the class when the first thing the teacher says is “After the first week I’m throwing away the roll sheet. I only have to take it that long to please the administration.” See in the state of California I have the right to fail. So if I chose to surf facebook, or play games on MY time, well, that’s my loss. Not the teachers. Teachers on the other hand that say things like, “I am going to take roll call every day at the start of class AND after break because I know you will sneak home otherwise..” really piss me off. Especially when this is a night class and has maybe only two teens fresh out of high school in it. It’s almost enough to make me want to drop the class.

All of that being said, I agree with things that have been stated in the past on this site that say that really, it’s up to the individual student to succeed. If I, as a student, have to rely on other people to help me succeed, then eventually I will fail and no one will be there to catch me.

Sorry about the rant. I hope you took the time to read it all. Thanks.

Barbara says:


Laptops are occasionally useful during class. I think these kids were not using their laptops to take notes because most students seem to resent laptop bans because they don’t think using a laptop in class hurts their performance. I bare my study went up when I stopped taking notes to check out my performance it was really amazing because my attention was better focused on the lecture.

Laptop Computers South- Africa

momo says:

How laptops effects students

Dear peer,
I have study about the impact of laptops programs on students in the classroom please answer my questions:
(1) Do you think students are learning more with laptops?
(2) Have the laptops made students more interested in learning?
(3) Would you have solutions about how to show the benefits of laptops in the classroom?
(4) if laptop increase the improve of students but it does not improve theirs scores what is the solutions for that?
I need more interactions with my questions.

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