More Evidence Against Computers In Class

Now there is an answer, thanks to a big, new experiment from economists at West Point, who randomly banned computers from some sections of a popular economics course this past year at the military academy. One-third of the sections could use laptops or tablets to take notes during lecture; one-third could use tablets, but only to look at class materials; and one-third were prohibited from using any technology.

Unsurprisingly, the students who were allowed to use laptops — and 80 percent of them did — scored worse on the final exam. What’s interesting is that the smartest students seemed to be harmed the most.

Jeff Guo (HT: Christopher Colquitt)

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. It should be noted that the experiment is based on the traditional classroom setting where lecturing is the dominant mode of communication.

    In a so-called flipped classroom — where students come to class to mainly discuss the material rather than listen or watch the lecturer — the use of technology can be implemented successfully, and there are studies backing this up.

    • Hun,

      I can see how a computer might be helpful for illustration or to show a text or image on a screen (I did that this semester in a discussion course so that we were all looking at the same text) but a room full of computers would not seem to aid discussion. Can you point us to the studies you mention?

    • In reply to Dr. Clark:

      There are many studies done in this direction, so instead of trying to pick a few from the whole, I thought it would be better to link the following article which could provide a glimpse of how a successful implementation of technology could look like (it also contains references at the end):

      “New wine is for fresh wineskins.” I think the converse of this teaching is also true, that is, fresh wineskins (computer technology) is for new wine (new pedagogy). Then trying to make a modern technology fit into a traditional lecture-based classroom is a very difficult, if not downright unwise. (To be clear, I am not against lectures. I love good lectures.)

  2. The overuse of technology is epidemic in education. To illustrate this, an algebra student of mine noted how I taught algebra differently from how his high school teacher did. What is high school teacher did was to give the students calculators and tell them what to enter into their calculators.

    Here, I would hasten to recommend the writings of Sherry Turkle, she is an MIT sociologist, on the overuse of technology. Too much technology doesn’t hurt education alone, it limits how we relate to people and how we spend or do not spend alone time to reflect on things and life. Having taught Information Science Technology and Computer Science along with freshmen math classes, I found her insights very helpful.

  3. I will say that this only applies to neurotypical students… I was undiagnosed (ASD) my entire academic career and couldn’t figure out why I struggled with handwritten notes. Once I finally began using a laptop (second semester at WSCAL), I did much better. I have an auditory processing problem, and have lost count how many times I would suddenly find myself completely blank when trying to hand write notes. I have a lot of completely unfinished sentences where I couldn’t remember all of a sudden what the prof had said, what I had wanted to write, and, worse, I suddenly had no clue where I was in the lecture, and it would take me a few precious minutes to recover and figure out what was going on. Given that women especially struggle with under diagnosis of ASD, (though there are also many men who aren’t diagnosed until adulthood), my concern is that those students will end up actively harmed by anti-computer policies. If you don’t know that you need special accommodation, you can’t ask for it…

    • Hey Jennifer,

      I have ASD as well and I found that during my undergraduate education, hand written notes were easier. I’m a student now at Knox Seminary and many of my courses are online. This means, of course, lots of self study and computer notes. I find that my ASD allows me to retain information after I read it.

      At the same time, because a lot of the online courses are self study, I sometimes wish there was more discussion, especially since I retain information easier.

      All of that to say, ASD certainly affects people in different ways huh? And women are definitely under diagnosed!

    • Hi Jen,

      Good to hear from you!

      There are multiple learning styles and a variety of circumstances and issues that students face thus I haven’t banned computers from the classroom.

Comments are closed.