College students use laptops in class. That's where their textbooks are. It's where their homework is stored. It enables communication, reference sourcing, and note taking. Laptop computers also enable students to chat with friends, watch movies, and play video games during class, just like a phone except larger. Like any other piece of technology, its usefulness is up to the user. But while a laptop can keep a student organized and is easier to carry than a stack of books, it may not be the best way to take lecture notes.
In a series of experiments at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture. Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.
The researchers hypothesized that, because students can type faster than they can write, the lecturer’s words flowed right to the students’ typing fingers without stopping in their brains for substantive processing. Students writing by hand had to process and condense the spoken material simply to enable their pens to keep up with the lecture. Indeed, the notes of the laptop users more closely resembled transcripts than lecture summaries. The handwritten versions were more succinct but included the salient issues discussed in the lecture.
A different experiment controlled for students playing video games during class by including a group with flat tablets that the professor could see. They still did worse than the manual note-takers. Does this mean that laptops should be banned in lectures? College students are adults; it might be better to share the research with them and let them decide whether to take pen and paper to class. The most efficient learning in my college career came from taking notes and later transcribing them to be more legible and organized, way before laptops were available. Read about the research at the New York Times. -via Metafilter, where you'll find more links on the subject.
(Image credit: Peter Arkle)