Thursday, September 19, 2013

Another interesting study on classroom laptop use that suggests the devices create their own temptation to disengage independent of student boredom, disinterest in the material, etc.

I skimmed the article quickly but that seems to be the upshot of this study by Canadian researchers.  In effect, laptops may create their own temptation for students to surf independent of the usual explanations such as student boredom, lack of interest in the material, lack of self-discipline or other psychological phenomenon that had previously been thought to be the underlying explanation for off-task laptop use. The study also concluded that off-task laptop use correlated "significantly" with both lower academic achievement and satisfaction as self-reported by students. 

On the flip side, on-task use of laptops in class correlated positively with student academic satisfaction but had almost no effect on their academic success.  The researchers further concluded that these results were invariant among students in the academic programs where they gathered their data including science, social sciences, health and arts which they said contributed to the robustness of those findings and the ability to generalize their conclusions to students enrolled in other types of programs [law, perhaps?].  However, the researchers fell short of advocating for a total ban on laptops concluding instead that, for example, doing so might negatively impact students' ability to take effective notes.  

The study, entitled Canadian University Students in Wireless Classrooms: What do They Do on Their Laptops and Does it Really Matter?, is authored by researchers at the University of Ottawa School of Psychology and has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Computers and Education here.  An excerpt:

Of particular importance, results of [the second part of the study] indicated that school-unrelated laptop behavior can significantly predict subsequent academic performance measured objectively at the end of the semester – even after controlling for the effect of variables selected to reflect (a) self-regulation failure, (b) motivational deficit, (c) internet addiction, (d) disorganized learning, and (e) academic disenchantment. Higher usage of school-unrelated laptop during the semester was related to lower end of semester grade point average – an absolute indicator of academic performance – and to lower performance relative to other students enrolled in the same courses. These results provide initial and theoretically important support against the alternative hypothesis that laptop utilization behavior is merely an epiphenomenon entirely accountable and reducible to other sources of influences that are already widely studied in the psychological sciences. The laptop behaviors emitted during class time have incremental power to predict the key indicators that are usually taken to benchmark the academic success of university students.

In both [parts of the study], school related laptop behaviors were mostly unrelated to academic success of students. At a first glance, this result could be taken as evidence to support the argument that laptops should be closed when students are in university classroom . . . . 

. . . .  Although school-related laptop behaviors do not seem to help, future research is needed to unpack their effects by identifying for whom and under which circumstances they might exert their expected positive effect on academic success. Latent class analyses (Marsh et al., 2009a and Marsh et al., 2009b) would be useful to identify subgroups of students more at risks of seeing their academic success compromised because of their specific ways of combining utilization of school related and school unrelated laptop behaviors.

. . . .

This study provided information that could be useful for university professors, administrators, and service providers on campus. First, students are using both school related and school unrelated laptop behaviors during class time, thus contradicting an impression that laptops should be entirely prohibited in the classrooms. Second, the laptop utilization behaviors do seem to matter because they are significantly associated with key indicators of academic success of university students. Third, the potential influence of laptop behaviors cannot be treated or reduced as an epiphenomenon entirely attributable to other known sources of psychological influences. As a result, laptop utilization behaviors should be considered as an important target that should be part of psycho-educational prevention programs on our campuses. Students should be informed about and learn the socially, educationally, and ethically appropriate ways of using their laptops, tablets, and smart phones during class time. Professors need to be informed about both the potential benefits and challenges resulting from the proliferation of wireless classrooms in higher education. Administrators need to support professors by creating training programs and pedagogical services that could help interested professors to adopt teaching behaviors that would match the ever growing usage of technological devices in our classrooms. In summary, this study contributed to a pressing need for a novel line of psychosocial research that will examine how universities can prepare themselves for the upcoming generation of multitasking students who were raised using emerging technologies in most areas of their daily lives (Roberts et al., 2009).

Read the full study here.


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