New study shows laptop use in class may hurt

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February 23, 2007

3:00 PM

Wireless internet access on college campuses is providing students a way to sit in class without mental engagement. Students significantly jeopardize their GPAs by using laptops in class, studies show.

p. A recent study conducted by researchers at Winona State University in Minnesota investigated the habits of students in large seminar classes and noted that many of those who brought their laptops to class did more than just take notes.

p. 81 percent admitted to checking their e-mail and 68 percent had instant messenger programs signed on during class. 25 percent of students used their laptops to play games.

p. The study found that students’ GPAs were 5 percent lower than those of their laptop-free peers, a result of excessive laptop use.
Many professors at the College feel that laptops cause disturbances for students.

p. “It’s distracting for the instructor to see a student leaning over another student’s laptop to take a look at something that probably has little to do with your class,” Professor Simon Stow of the government department said.

p. The necessity of laptops is dependent on the nature of the course, according to Stow.

p. “I should say that I really don’t like students using laptops in seminars,” he said. “I think people hide behind them and they inhibit discussion, but that may be because of what I teach. If I taught statistics or something, I suppose it would be more acceptable.”

p. Other professors, however, have a more lassiez-faire attitude about the presence of laptops in class.

p. “I think that for students to use laptops makes all kinds of sense,” Professor Melvin Ely, a member of the history department, said. “Their doing so doesn’t distract me at all – except on the rare occasion when the expression on a student’s face suggests that he or she is using the laptop for some purpose unrelated to my class… If I don’t have the ability to keep students more interested in my class than they are in whatever entertainment they might find online, then I probably ought to find a different profession.”

p. For students who believe that their laptop activity goes unnoticed, be warned.

p. “[My opinion of a student who uses a laptop doesn’t change,] unless he or she is unusually ostentations about it. The loud starting up in the middle of class, for example, can be obnoxious, but that seldom happens,” Stow said.

p. In accordance with Stow’s statement, Ely believes that laptop usage rarely affects his classes. When asked if excessive laptop use contributed to weaker classroom discussion or if he observed a correlation between laptop use and lower GPAs, Ely responded in the negative.

p. Ely defended his support for laptops by maintaining that, when used properly, they can be a useful classroom tool for students.
“I don’t see why writing longhand would be more virtuous or effective than typing into a computer, and the latter is more efficient,” he said.

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