Laptops Hinder Learning?

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A Study on how laptops hinder learning made the front page of The International Educator newspaper that comes out monthly to overseas educators and schools.

Jason Welker wrote a great article at U Tech Tips about it.

First of all, to call this a “study” of the use of laptops in
schools is inappropriate. A study with a sample size of TWO classes,
yes, but its findings should be understood as applying only two these
two particular classes, which were large lecture-style university
classes. This particular university’s laptop “program” is described as

“Students were told at the beginning of the course that
they could bring their laptops to class to take notes if they wanted
to, but that they would never need their laptops.” (italics added)

Any school thinking of implementing a laptop program should be
careful NOT to emulate this university’s particular approach. What’s
the result when students are encouraged to use laptops, but told they
would “never need them”? Here’s what one professor observed:

“‘You’d sit and watch the students, and wonder, ‘What
are they doing with their laptops?’ You’d walk by other classes and see
everybody playing solitaire. I wanted to know, ‘Is this a problem?,”‘
said Fried, a psychology professor at Winona State.

The laptop users reported in weekly surveys that they did other
things other than take notes for an average of 17 minutes out of each
75-minute class.

Checking e-mail during the lectures was the most common distraction;
81 per cent admitted to this transgression compared to 68 per cent
reporting that they used instant messaging. Forty-three per cent
reported surfing the Internet, while 25 per cent reported playing

It should be no surprise that students spent most of their time with
their laptops surfing the net, chatting and playing games, given that
professors apparently made no attempt to integrate the computers into
their instruction. Obviously this represents a failure not of “laptop
programs” in general, rather of this university’s failure to implement
a program effectively. The university’s failure lies in the simple fact
that professors view the laptop as a fancy tool for taking notes,
rather than what it is: a tool for communication, collaboration, and
innovative research.

Laptop programs do not “hinder learning”, BAD laptop programs hinder
learning. The study discussed in this article focuses on one, very bad laptop program at a university that does not understand the role technology should play in education.

Worth a read!

[tags]laptops, 1:1[/tags]

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Reminds me of a quote my principal often shares at staff meetings: “If we keep doing what we’ve always done we’re going to keep getting what we’ve always got.” New tools require new pedagogies but educational change is slow — surprise, surprise! 😉

    BTW, the study is out of the USA, from Winona State University in Minnesota. It’s caused quite a stir and has been criticized both for its methodology and, consequently, it’s results.

  2. Thanks for the clarification…gee here I was hoping to blame the Canadians. 🙂

    Should have known better. :0

    Wish I could link to the article written in our overseas newspaper because the woman who took the article and reworked it made it even worse. 🙂

  3. Jeff Barrons Reply

    Hey Jeff,

    As the new Puxi HS librarian I read this same article with a great deal of interest. I have always been intrigued by the idea of having a laptop class. I think this study and any others that emulate it are doing the students, teachers and laptop concept a huge disservice. Nowhere in the article did I read anything about inservice and learning curves. To expect teachers and professors to understand and make the best use of laptops from the getgo is absurd and to expect them to do it with little or no inservice is even worse.

    I also think that using laptops in the classroom is like using the WWW to do research, it works some of the time but other times there might be an “old fashioned” method of teaching a concept, like using library books. Users need to be taught best practices and then given time and nuturing to make it work.

    In the end the decision was made based on economics, which is fair, but don’t then go blame the use of laptops for causing the issue.

  4. Yes, thanks for the clarification. Perhaps subconsciously I wanted it to be a Canadian University as well. I have corrected the mistake on the original post at utechtips!

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