As recent high school graduates prepare for their migration to college in the fall, one item is sure to top most students’ shopping wish lists: a laptop computer. Laptops are ubiquitous on university campuses, and are viewed by most students as absolute must-have items, right alongside laundry detergent, towels, and coffee pots.
Without question, personal laptops can enhance the college experience by facilitating engagement with online course material, providing access to sources for research, maximizing internship searches, and even improving communication with friends and parents. Many students also opt to bring their laptops to class so that they can take notes, view online lecture slides, and search the web for course-related material. This practice, it turns out, may be a mistake.
New research by scientists at Michigan State University suggests that laptops do not enhance classroom learning, and in fact students would be better off leaving their laptops in the dorm during class. Although computer use during class may create the illusion of enhanced engagement with course content, it more often reflects engagement with social media, YouTube videos, instant messaging, and other nonacademic content. This self-inflicted distraction comes at a cost, as students are spending up to one-third of valuable (and costly) class time zoned out, and the longer they are online the more their grades tend to suffer.