Study Shows Classroom Tech Reduces Exam Performance

Photo credit: Brad Flickinger (CC-By-2.0)

An Educational Psychology study showed that dividing attention in the classroom reduced student exam performance.  

Two researchers, Arnold Glass and Mengxue Kang, from Rutgers University, studied 118 college students to determine how using electronic devices (laptop, tablet, and cell phone) for non-academic purposes impacted their exam performance.

In a two-section college course, researchers allowed electronic devices in half of the lectures. Their findings were interesting.

First, they noted that electronic device use did not impact short-term comprehension of the lecture measured by quiz questions given. 

Looking at long-term retention was a different story.  Students who had divided attention saw significantly reduced long-term retention of the classroom lecture, which impaired subsequent unit exam and final exam performance by about a half-a-letter grade (5 percent).

That isn’t surprising, but what is surprising, is that students did worse even if they did not check their devices.

The researchers wrote, “This is the first-ever finding in an actual classroom of the social effect of classroom distraction on subsequent exam performance. The effect of classroom distraction on exam performance confirms the laboratory finding of the social effect of distraction.”

“This ubiquitous use certainly changed the social character of the class from an occasion for joint attention to more like a group of individuals in a waiting room occasionally looking up. It meant that for the few students who tried to direct attention to the instructor there was distracting activity on both sides and in front of them,” they continued.

They noted that students tend to “retain more from face-to-face social interactions than they do from nearly equivalent instructional situations (e.g. involving video or other online instruction) that do not involve social interaction.”

This study is something that K-12 schools should consider when crafting policies related to electronic devices in class, even if students use those devices for educational purposes.

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