In-Class Laptop Use and Its Effects on Student Learning

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Computers & Education 50 (2008) 906–914

In-class laptop use and its eVects on student learning
Carrie B. Fried
Winona State University, Psychology Department, 231 Phelps Hall, Winona, MN 55987, United States Received 29 June 2006; received in revised form 15 September 2006; accepted 24 September 2006

Abstract Recently, a debate has begun over whether in-class laptops aid or hinder learning. While some research demonstrates that laptops can be an important learning tool, anecdotal evidence suggests more and more faculty are banning laptops from their classrooms because of perceptions that they distract students and detract from learning. The current research examines the nature of in-class laptop use in a large lecture course and how that use is related to student learning. Students completed weekly surveys of attendance, laptop use, and aspects of the classroom environment. Results showed that students who used laptops in class spent considerable time multitasking and that the laptop use posed a signiWcant distraction to both users and fellow students. Most importantly, the level of laptop use was negatively related to several measures of student learning, including self-reported understanding of course material and overall course performance. The practical implications of these Wndings are discussed. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Laptop use; Classroom teaching; Post-secondary education; Teaching/Learning strategies

Computers, and especially laptops, have become standard equipment in higher education as the number of universities instituting laptop initiatives continues to grow (Weaver & Nilson, 2005). Brown, Burg, and Dominick (1998) and Brown and Petitto (2003) have coined the term ubiquitous computing to describe a campus where all students and faculty have laptops and all buildings have access to wi-W technology. But recently there has been a backlash against such programs, with faculty banning laptop use in their classrooms due to concerns about the negative impact they have on student learning (e.g., Melerdiercks, 2005; Young, 2006). There does seem to be a developing feud between those who want to promote laptop use and those who are resistant to it. For the past few years, many educational innovators have touted technological advances in general and laptops with wireless connectivity more speciWcally as the next great educational innovations. Brown and his colleagues (e.g., Brown et al., 1998; Brown & Petitto, 2003) have long advocated the beneWts of universal and constant access to computers on college campuses. Much attention has been paid to Wnding ways of roll out laptop programs and get faculty to adopt and adapt to such programs (e.g., *

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C.B. Fried / Computers & Education 50 (2008) 906–914


Candiotti & Clarke, 1998; Hall & Elliot, 2003; McVay, Snyder, & Graetz, 2005; Platt & Bairnsfather, 2000; Schrum, Skeele, & Grant, 2002). One common theme seems to be that if faculty would “take to” the new technology, everyone would reap the beneWts of this educational revolution (e.g., Weaver & Nilson, 2005). The key question for most educators is simply whether these technological innovations will have a positive impact on education. There is some evidence that laptop programs and the so-called ubiquitous computing environments they create on college campuses can have a positive eVect. Some (e.g., Fitch, 2004; Partee, 1996; Stephens, 2005) have found that laptops can facilitate faculty-student interactions and in-class participation, thus increasing engagement and active learning. This is often done through preparing and posting discussion questions and using new devices such as response keypads to facilitate student interaction. Driver...