Paul L. Caron

Friday, March 6, 2015

L.A. Times: Classroom Technology Bans Improve Student Performance

GadgetLos Angeles Times, Classes That Go Off the Grid Help Students Focus:

USC professor Geoffrey Cowan is a scholar of free speech and communication. But Cowan, the former dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, insists that students sometimes should be cut off from the social media and websites that are so prevalent in their lives.

Cowan bans the use of laptops, cellphones and wireless devices during the freshman introductory class "The Changing World of Communication and Journalism" that he co-teaches in the fall with current Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III. Like a growing number of professors nationwide, the USC professors say that electronic equipment, even just for note taking, causes students to mentally disconnect from lectures and distracts them from class discussions.

The sneaky, or sometimes brazen, texting, Web surfing and Facebook browsing disrupts the teaching and learning environment, they say.

Students "think they can multi-task but they are losing the train of thought and not engaging in the conversation going on," Cowan said. Since he began banning the devices three years ago, he said, the course is "a much more rewarding experience" for students as well as professors.

His policy, detailed in the course syllabus, is a reaction to how much the current generation of college students relies on — some would say is addicted to — cellphones and the Internet in ways that were unthinkable 10 years ago.

The effect of such technology on academic and social lives is now being scrutinized.

A recent study at Michigan State University tracked 500 students in an introductory psychology class and found that the more they used the Internet for nonacademic purposes such as reading Facebook during class, the lower their test scores in that course were. That was true "regardless of intellectual ability" measured by entrance exams taken during high school, according to the research published in the Computers & Education journal [Non-academic Internet Use in the Classroom Is Negatively Related to Classroom Learning Regardless of Intellectual Ability].

Other research published last year in the Psychological Science journal suggested that students learn concepts better if they take notes in longhand than if they type them on a laptop. Students who type too often try to transcribe lectures verbatim, which is "detrimental to learning," while students reframe and distill ideas when they write notes by hand, said the study, titled The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard.

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