Studies have shown that students using computers in the classroom tend to do poorly on tests when compared to peers who take notes by hand. Research conducted at West Point found the same results, but did it in a way that could make a more compelling argument for banning the devices from classrooms altogether.
In a study of 726 sophomore cadets in 50 offerings of a course in introductory economics, researchers were able to assign students at random to versions of the course that either banned all devices, allowed unrestricted use, or gave permission to have a tablet computer face-up on the student’s desk. All students then took the same exam at the end of the semester.
This large-scale randomized control trial (RCT) method of study made it possible for researchers to compare the same measures of learning for all students. While the results clearly suggest that banning computers in the classroom makes sense, it might not make great policy, according to Tania Lombrozo, professor of psychology, University of California, Berkeley.
“The findings to date suggest that banning computers from classrooms may be the most sensible policy to adopt,” she wrote in a column for National Public Radio. “But there’s a more general policy that’s also worth keeping in mind: the policy of constant experimentation and improvement. We can’t always approximate an ideal RCT, but we can stifle opportunities for progress by applying a policy uniformly, without variation. We can only inch our way beyond the status quo by trying out different options, subjecting them to rigorous comparison, and repeating as needed. That means entertaining a new suite of potential policies, not just discarding the superseded.”