Sunday, December 12, 2010

Study shows college students under-report their classroom web-surfing habits.

Among the significant findings from this study are the following.  According to the authors, all studies to date have relied on student self-reporting to determine the level of classroom web-surfing (both related and unrelated to the day's lesson).  This study used spyware to compare the students' self-reported surfing habits to their actual activities (and found that students under-report some of those activities - like "instant messaging" - by 40%).  Second, the study found that in terms of the total amount of web-surfing that occurs in class, 62% of the "windows" opened by students were unrelated to course content.  Finally, the study found that classroom web-surfing (instant messaging in particular) had a "significant and substantial" negative correlation with academic performance. 

The article is entitled "Examining the Affects of Student Multitasking with Laptops during the Lecture" and is available at 21 Journal of Information Systems Education,  241 (2010).  From the  abstract:

This paper examines undergraduate student use of laptop computers during a lecture-style class that includes substantial problem-solving activities and graphic-based content. The study includes both a self-reported use component collected from student surveys as well as a monitored use component collected via activity monitoring 'spyware' installed on student laptops. We categorize multitasking activities into 'productive' (course-related) versus 'distractive' (non course-related) tasks. Quantifiable measures of software multitasking behavior are introduced to measure the 'frequency' of student multitasking, the 'duration' of student multitasking, and the 'extent' to which students engage in distractive versus productive tasks. We find that students engage in substantial multitasking behavior with their laptops and have non course-related software applications open and active about 42% of the time. There is a statistically significant inverse relationship between the ratio of distractive versus productive multitasking behavior during lectures and academic performance. We also observe that students understate the frequency of email and instant messaging (IM) use in the classroom when self-reporting on their laptop usage.


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Yes, they did receive approval to conduct "human research" as stated in footnote 2 of their article - but I wondered the same thing.

Thanks for the question.

Posted by: Jim | Dec 13, 2010 9:28:46 PM

I am curious whether this study constitutes research with human subjects, whether it underwent review by an institutional review board pursuant to human subjects regulation, and whether the students/research subjects were informed of the use of spyware and gave anything approximating informed consent for their participation.

Posted by: Alan Jay Weisbard | Dec 13, 2010 5:57:19 AM

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