How are students really using their laptops in class? To find out some professors have conducted studies that involved "spying" on their students.
The professors had the participants install monitoring software (referred to by the professors as "spyware") on their laptops to provide a glimpse at their in-class browsing activities. Students were found to be using e-mail clients, instant messaging apps, and surfing the web on sites unrelated to the coursework.
According to Inside Higher Ed, "The average student in the Vermont study cycled through a whopping 65 new, active windows per lecture, nearly two-thirds of which were classified as 'distractive.' (One student averaged 174 new windows per lecture.)"
Instant messaging apparently had the worst affect on students' grades. "High rates of instant-messaging activity," writes Inside Higher Ed, "showed significant correlations with poor performances on all but one test during the semester." What's more, instant message users tended to claim that they never used messaging apps in class, even though they had been observed doing so.
Kraushaar and Novak admit that their students, aware they were being monitored, may have modified their browsing habits. Another study, however, didn't ask permission.
St. John's University law professor Jeff Sovern hired people to literally look over students' shoulders to observe laptop habits in class.
Sovern observed a total of 1,072 laptop users from six different courses over 60 class sessions. According to his findings, laptops create an enormous distraction for students.
From Inside High Ed:
Sovern's spies found that more than half of second- and third-year law students who came to class with laptops used the computers for non-class purposes more than half the time, compared to a mere 4 percent of first-year students. For the most part, first-year students tended to be rapt when text was being read aloud or a rule was being discussed, and less attentive when classmates were asking questions; upper-level students tended to be distractible no matter what was going on.
Sovern banned laptops from his second- and third-year classes as a result of this study.
Visit Inside Higher Ed for more information on these studies, their methodologies and their conclusions.