Laptops in class have benefits, but can also promote distraction for users and others sitting beside or behind them
Photo Credit: Robert F. Bukaty- Associated Press

New study shows computers in class distract both users and non-users

It’s a common sight these days in schools across Canada. More and more students are using laptop computers in class, especially at the university level, but there may be drawbacks for those students and even for others sitting close to them.

The study simulated actual class situations © courtesy Faria Sana

A new study showed that laptop use in class can result in lower grades for students.

Faria Sana is a doctoral candidate at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, in the department of Psychology Neuroscience and Behaviour. She conducted the study along with York University’s Tina Weston under the guidance of  York’s Melody Wiseheart


The study involved volunteer first year university students in a replication of typical lecture situations.

The first aspect looked at the effect of multi-tasking on the ability to absorb class information. All participants were asked to bring their laptops and take notes as they listened to a lecture on meterology. Some however were asked to also perform unrelated task- such as find a person on Facebook- when they felt they had the time during the lecture. This was to mimic what distracted students might do doing a class.


Co-author, Faria Sana of McMaster University,
Hamilton, On
© courtesy McMaster University

In the second experiment, some students had laptops, others had pen and paper.  Some with pen and paper were seated apart from the laptop users, while others were beside or behind tham. This was to see if students without laptops were dstracted by those with laptops

In both cases a quiz was given at the end to see how well students had absorbed the information.

Faria Sana of McMaster University who co-authored the study with Tina Weston of York University , said  the study was designed to simulate actual classroom situations.

In the first phase, she said she expected the multi-taskers to have lower scores.  The test results later confirmed what previous researchers had found. Students asked to multitask did not do as well as those not multi-tasking.

However, she said, in the second phase she also expected some degree of distraction for those not using laptops but sitting close to laptop users.  However, she was surprised by the degree to which the scores showed that those sitting close to laptop users were distracted.  Equally surprising was the fact that after asking those close to the laptop users if they did get distracted, most felt they were not affected by the laptops.

Co-author Tina Weston of York University, Toronto
© courtesy York University

 In the first phase, the multitakers scores were 11% lower, and in the second phase those with pen and paper sitting with laptop users, had a 17% lower score.

Sana said, this shows that students can be affected by what other laptop users are doing without even realizing they are being distracted.

She pointed out that there is no question of banning laptops, but some students are not paying attention and visiting internet sites which not only affects their grades but also those around them.

She notes that some classes already have electronic blocking to prevent internet distractions by smartphones or computers.

The next phase of the research will look at what it is that is creating the distraction for nearby sutdents  such as the sound of the clicking keyboard or images on the screens or both.

study published in Computers and Education


Categories: Internet, Science & Technology, Society

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

For reasons beyond our control, and for an undetermined period of time, our comment section is now closed. However, our social networks remain open to your contributions.