Friday, August 11, 2017

For better learning in college lectures, lay down the laptop and pick up a pen

By Susan M. Dynarski. She is a professor of economics at the University of Michigan.

I encourage my students to take notes with pen and paper (they get extra credit if they copy the notes they took it in class). I suggest that they read their notes carefully to make sure that they understand them before copying them and that they do this between every class meeting.

"Do computers help or hinder classroom learning in college? Step into any college lecture and you’ll find a sea of students with laptops and tablets open, typing as the professor speaks.
With their enhanced ability to transcribe content and look up concepts on the fly, are students learning more from lecture than they were in the days of paper and pen?

A growing body of evidence says “No.” When college students use computers or tablets during lecture, they learn less and earn worse grades. The evidence consists of a series of randomized trials, in both college classrooms and controlled laboratory settings.

Students who use laptops in class are likely different from those who don’t. They may be more easily distracted or less interested in the course material. Alternatively, they may be the most serious (or wealthiest) students who have invested in technology to support their learning.

Randomization assures us that, on average, the students using electronics in a study are comparable at baseline to those who do not. That means that any comparison we make of students at the end of the study is caused by the “treatment,” which in this case is laptop use.

In a series of laboratory experiments, researchers at Princeton and the University of California, Los Angeles had students watch a lecture, randomly assigning them either laptops or pen and paper for their note-taking.1 Understanding of the lecture, measured by a standardized test, was substantially worse for those who had used laptops.

When college students use computers or tablets during lecture, they learn less and earn worse grades.
Learning researchers hypothesize that, because students can type faster than they can write, a lecturer’s words flow straight from the students’ ears through  their typing fingers, without stopping in the brain for substantive processing. Students writing by hand, by contrast, have to process and condense the material if their pens are to keep up with the lecture. Indeed, in this experiment, the notes of the laptop users more closely resembled transcripts than summaries of the lectures.

Taking notes can serve two learning functions: the physical storage of content (ideally, for later review) and the cognitive encoding of that content. These lab experiments suggest that laptops improve storage, but undermine encoding. On net, those who use laptops do worse, with any benefit of better storage swamped by worse encoding."

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