Surfing the Web in Class Hurts Even Smart Kids

Researchers have discovered that even the smartest college students suffer academically when they use the Internet in class for non-academic purposes.

The study speaks to the contemporary college culture where professors compete for students’ attention as they are engaged with laptops and smartphones.

“Students of all intellectual abilities should be responsible for not letting themselves be distracted by use of the Internet,” said Dr. Susan Ravizza, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University (MSU).

Ravizza and colleagues studied non-academic Internet use in an introductory psychology class at MSU with 500 students.

The working hypothesis has been that heavy Internet users with lower intellectual abilities, as determined by ACT scores, would perform worse on exams.

Conversely, prior research suggests smarter people are better at multitasking and filtering out distractions and thus would be expected to perform well on academic tasks.

Surprisingly, this perception was not accurate as all students, regardless of intellectual ability, had lower exam scores the more they used the Internet for non-academic purposes such as reading the news, sending emails and posting Facebook updates.

Ravizza said that might be because Internet use is a different type of multitasking, in that it can be so engaging.

The study also showed students discounted the effects of Internet use on academic performance, reinforcing past findings that students have little awareness of how their smartphones and laptops affect learning.

Ravizza said it would be nearly impossible to attempt to ban smartphones or other electronic devices from lecture halls.

“What would you do, have hundreds of people put their cell phones in a pile and pick them up after class?” Such a ban might also be a safety issue, since cell phones have become a primary source of receiving emergency messages.

The study appears in the online version of the journal Computers & Education.

Source: Michigan State University

College student using laptop during lecture photo by shutterstock.