One concern instructors have about students using electronic devices in the classroom is that they can be a distraction. A new study from York University, Toronto, found that it’s not only a distraction to the student using the device, but also to their peers nearby.
The study asked undergraduate-level students to use a laptop to take notes during a class lecture. Half the class was assigned to do tasks that mimicked what a typical student might do while browsing the web as the class was going on. The entire class was given a comprehension test at the end of the lecture, with the multitasking students receiving lower grades than the other half of the class.
While those results are not particularly surprising, the study also found that students sitting close to multitasking students also did poorly on the test, even though they had been instructed to take notes with pencil and paper.
“The results of our experiment confirm that multitasking on a laptop reduces a student’s ability to comprehend lecture content,” Tina West, co-author of the study and doctoral student at York University, said in a release. “A more surprising finding was that students sitting nearby a multitasker also underperformed, despite actively trying to focus on the lecture. These students were placed at a disadvantage because of the choices of their peers.”
As part of the study, the researchers created a list of frequently asked questions which describes the problems and provides solutions teachers can consider to help keep their students’ attention during lectures.