“Before you Ban: Empirical Data on Student Laptop Use”

February 29th, 2012

The Legal Skills Prof Blog posts part of a Ph.D. dissertation from Kim Novak Morse at St. Louis School of Law. She provides some data about the use of laptops by students:

The results from the study reveal that indeed students are off task in class; however, it is not as extensive as we thought, nor is it the population of students we thought it was (of course, this depends on whether you are an optimist or pessimist). Second-year students were off task the most time, at 42% of the entire semester. First-years were off task approximately 35% of the time for the semester while third-years spent approximately 28% of their class time off task. Regarding how many individual students were ON-task at a given instant, roughly 82% of third-years, 69% of first years, and 50% of second-years were NOT misusing their laptops (chart 1).

While the numbers indicate that students are off-task, my second research question sought to answer whether more off-task behavior might correlate to lower final course grade. Through statistical analysis, the results indicate that there is no correlation between high off-task behavior and lower final course grade (chart 4). Nor is there a correlation between low off-task behavior and higher final course grade. Such results support the idea that students learn outside of class as well as in class and, though they may miss ideas in class due to off-task behavior, they often learn or supplement it through readings, study groups, clinics, etc.

The study is further instructive to legal educators since it also identifies some of the conditions that promote off-task behavior:

1)    Student laptop users tend to go off-task when X-(anything) occurs for 4 minutes or more…

2)    When professor is engaged in Socratic method with one student, there is a an increase in off-task behavior by other students.

3)    When a classmate engages with professor, there is an increase in off-task behavior by other students.

4)    When professor is monotone, or, overly uses one linguistic intonation style, students tend to increase off-task behavior.

5)    Approximately 40 minutes into class, off-task behavior increases.

6)    When professor calls on students in expected order, off-task behavior increases.

I am willing to wager that none of the Professors taught through technology where the laptop was an integral component of the classroom environment.

Update: This headline on ATL sums it up:

Why do students surf the web in class instead of taking notes? Probably because their professors are boring.