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Teaching Tip: Your Students Think They Can Multitask–But They Can’t!

December 15, 2012

laptopsI just read a fascinating article by Penn State Professor Maryellen Weimer in Faculty Focus (Dec.12, 2012) about an issue we all deal with in class–student multitasking. Of course my students have argued (strongly) for years that they can both pay attention to my lectures and use their laptops simultaneously. Trying to convince them otherwise is an uphill battle. Maybe the best way to deal with the problem is to cite some of these research studies:

  • In an experiment with students taking an accounting course, half of the cohort was allowed to text during a lecture and half had their phones turned off.  After the lecture, both groups took the same quiz and the students who did not text scored significantly higher on the quiz.
  • This research focused on the use of laptops in a 97 student  MIS class. With student consent, spyware tracked the windows and page names for each software application run during class time.  Spyware tracked the number of “distractive windows” students ran, including games, pictures, email, instant messaging and web surfing.  Students had these distractive windows open 42% of the class time. Students who tried to listen to the lecture while using these distractive windows had significantly lower scores on homework, projects, quizzes, final exams and final course averages than students who looked at mostly “productive windows”.
  • Students taking a psych course were asked to read a 3,828 word passage. One group used instant messaging before they started reading, another group used instant messaging while they were reading and a third group read without instant messaging. The group that used instant messaging while they read took 22%- 59% longer to read the passage than students in the other two groups.
  • Students in a  psych course completed weekly surveys on various aspects of the class.  They reported their attendance, and if they used laptops during class for personal things–not note taking.  They also rated  how closely they paid attention to the lectures, how clear they found the lectures and how confident they were they understood the lecture material. Result: “The level of laptop use was significantly and negatively related to student learning.  The more students used their laptops in class, the lower their class performance.”

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