College students who surf the Internet in class tend to have lower scores on the final exam compared to their peers who stay offline during class, according to new research at Michigan State University. The findings remained even after adjusting for students’ intelligence and motivation.
For the study, researchers measured laptop use in an introductory psychology course and found that the average time students spent browsing the web for non-academic purposes was 37 minutes. Most non-class-related Internet time was spent on social media, reading email, shopping for items such as clothes, and watching videos.
The findings show that spending more time surfing the Internet was strongly linked to lower scores on the final exam even when the students’ intelligence and motivation were taken into account, said researcher Dr. Susan Ravizza, associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study.
“The detrimental relationship associated with non-academic Internet use,” Ravizza said, “raises questions about the policy of encouraging students to bring their laptops to class when they are unnecessary for class use.”
The research took place in a one-hour, 50-minute lecture course for one semester with 507 students taught by Dr. Kimberly Fenn, MSU associate professor of psychology and study co-author.
A total of 127 students agreed to participate in the study, which involved logging onto a proxy server when they went online. Of those participants, 83 checked into the proxy server in more than half of the 15 course sessions during the semester and were included in the final analysis.
The researchers took into account the students’ scores on the ACT as a measure of intelligence. They also gauged students’ motivation to succeed in class through an online survey sent to each participant after the final class.
Interestingly, using the Internet for class purposes did not help students’ test scores. But Ravizza said this wasn’t surprising as there “were no Internet -based assignments in this course, which means that most of the ‘academic use’ was downloading lecture slides in order to follow along or take notes.”
Furthermore, she added that previous research has shown that taking notes on a laptop is not as beneficial for learning as writing notes by hand. “Once students crack their laptop open, it is probably tempting to do other sorts of Internet -based tasks that are not class-relevant.”
Ravizza said she has stopped posting lecture slides before class, so there is no reason for students to bring a laptop to class. Instead, she waits until the week before the exam to upload the slides.
“I now ask students to sit in the back if they want to bring their laptop to class so their Internet use is not distracting other students,” she said.
The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.