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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Do laptops impact positively or negatively on classes and students?

I've been meaning to read this Techdirt  piece of an interesting empirical research on the impact of laptops in classrooms (by Professor Kim Novak Morse of Saint Louis University School of Law) and finally got round to it. It sheds some interesting results on this somewhat painful subject:
  • Roughly  69% of first years, 50% of second-years  and 82% of third-years, were not distracted because of their laptops, and concentrated on the lesson at hand.  
  • No correlation was found between distracted student laptop usage and final course grade. Either they absorbed the relevant material much quicker than the lecturer thought, or they learned outside the framework of the lesson. 
  • Students who are laptop users tend to get distracted when the lecturer is monotonous (suprise!); When the same activity is being carried for more than 4 minutes; When the professor talks to one student or approaches students by a known order; When the lesson reaches the 40 minutes mark. 
  • Students who are laptop users tend to re-focus when The lecturer provides definitions, summaries, conclusions, exams references or stresses; When they are asked to turn their attention to a new item in the study material; When the lecturer  intentionally CHANGES INTONATIONS; When the lecturer provides information by a Q&A/Problem solving process directed at the entire class; When the lecturer does not spend more than 4 minutes on a single teaching process (processes can be - provision of information, questions,  usage of different teaching aids - books, presentations, movies, etc); When the lecturer moves around the "students' space" of the lecturing hall/class;
As a firm believer in the importance of computers to the learning process, I think this is stuff any teacher should know. 

Interestingly enough, it seems that the research did not refer to the usage of humor in teaching. My personal experience has taught me time and again that humor is one of the most powerful tools a teacher can have. Sadly, humor is not something that can be taught.