Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hey Teacher! Leave those kids alone

Check this WAPO piece about the terrible distraction of laptops in the classroom.

So much fail here.

First off, the subjects were given a 45 minute lecture, "meant to simulate the sort of experience they would have in a college classroom".

So let's start with an environment that begs for distractions.

Then, the test group was given a list of 12 specific tasks to perform during the lecture!

With the following results:

It turns out that people sitting next to the "multitaskers" also did worse.

Most students with laptops are not trying to please an experimenter by completing a series of tasks on their machines.

Even the non-multitasker did fairly bad on the test.

In my undergrad classes students are required to bring a laptop or tablet or smartphone (if they don't have one, one will be provided) to class, and I give them something to do on it.

They receive questions on the course material. Some multiple choice, some graphical, some numerical, some essay, some opinion. They can send me individual messages about things they don't understand or needed clarifications.  They answer the questions, debate with their peers when answers differ, and often come to a much better understanding in the process.

Their web-enabled device becomes a core part of the class.

To put it bluntly people, the problem is not the laptop, the problem is the lecture.


Andrew said...

Do people think about their research designs at all?

In real life, people self-select into multitasking (Angus, not talking about your use of technology which I don't put in the same boat as what is going on in this study). People who can't handle multitasking could be less likely to do it. They are estimating a treatment effect on the wrong population.

The peer distraction results are poor. If I was in a controlled experiment and asked to watch a lecture, but then a bunch of people were clearly doing totally random tasks around me, I would wonder what was going on and if I was missing something.

Finally, from my reading I don't think there was an incentive to pay attention and understand the material. This is totally different from the moderate-to-high stakes of taking a course for a grade.

Angus said...

Andrew: well said. I completely agree.