TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, August 12, 2018

In-Class Cellphone, Laptop Use Lowers Exam Performance

Inside Higher Ed, In-Class Cellphone And Laptop Use Lowers Exam Scores:

Yes, cellphones and laptops do affect students' grades, and no, students can't multitask as well as they say they can.

Arnold Glass, a psychology professor at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, and Mengxue Kang, a graduate student, recently published a study in Educational Psychology [Dividing Attention in the Classroom Reduces Exam Performance] that they say reveals a causal link between cellphone and laptop use during class and poorer exam scores.

Figure 1. The effect of allowing electronic devices in the classroom on percent correct on classroom quizzes and a subsequent unit exam and the final exam.
Exam

Previous studies on the impact of personal devices on student performance have measured individual student scores against those of their peers, but, using what Glass calls a "platinum standard" method, Glass and Kang designed their experiment to test students' performance against themselves. One hundred and eighteen students, split between two virtually identical sections of an upper-level psychology course, were told they could use their electronic devices in class during half of the lecture periods and asked to keep them put away during the other half. To enforce the rule, a proctor attended class on device-free days.

Glass and Kang measured student performance with daily quizzes, three unit exams and a cumulative exam over the course of the semester. Exam scores were poorer for all students on the material covered on device-approved days, regardless of their individual decisions to use their device or not. Previous lab studies have noted the effects of classroom distractions, but Glass and Kang's work confirmed those effects in an actual classroom.

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Comments

Here is the key sentence in the original study: "Consequently, any distraction that reduces mnemonic activities reduces long-term retention." In other words, effective multitasking is a myth.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Aug 12, 2018 12:36:29 PM

There is a built in bias in the study to support its desired conclusion and which ignores that materials covered on any particular day may not be tested until weeks later, such as in midterm exams when memories are less fresh.

Students would feel more compelled to just listen rather than take copious review notes if professors made available all information from their lectures in a form that could be handed out or downloaded for later review.

Posted by: Woody | Aug 14, 2018 9:50:30 AM