In a post as part of their Wired Campus series, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a professor who raises questions about the educational impact of laptops in the classroom. The key paragraph in the piece, “Students Stop Surfing After Being Shown How In-Class Laptop Use Lowers Test Scores,” summarizes the experiment:

Diane Sieber, an associate professor, teaches writing and ethics to engineering undergraduates. She told the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper that last semester, she identified 17 students in one of her classes who were using laptops most frequently. After the first test, she told them that they did 11 percent worse, on average, than their peers who did not have their faces in their computers as much.

The article links to another story in the Boulder Daily Camera, Profs grapple with laptop rules as CU campus goes wireless, which highlights the degree to which other students can get irritated when those who use laptops are using them for other purposes:

University of Colorado senior Jessica Sanchez said it’s annoying when her classmates flip through their Facebook photos from a wild weekend and play games on their laptops during class.

But when a young woman in front of her in her sociology elective was browsing spring shoes on Ralph Lauren’s Web site this semester, Sanchez found herself laptop window shopping and furious. The egregious distraction prompted her to e-mail her professor after class and ask that laptops be better regulated in the classroom.

“Why do they even come to class?” Sanchez said. “They need to grow up and be respectful.”

Once told of the possible negative impact of laptops on their grades, some of Professor Sieber’s students then opted not to use laptops and their scores rose. While these results are only anecdotal, it is the kind of investigation that can lead to a more careful study of the the real impacts that such use might have on education. The story also reports on some schools that have banned laptops from the classroom because they believe they are a distraction.

Professor Sieber concludes:

“These are grown-ups,” she said. “They need to identify what keeps them from learning, and then act on it because they aren’t going to have me for the rest of their lives telling them ‘No, no, no. Focus.'”

I think it would also make for interesting material for classroom discussion to see how students react to this experiment. Also, the comments in response to the Chronicle article are almost as interesting as the article itself.

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