The most recent in a string of articles discussing the effects of laptops in the classroom was recently published in the Winter 2016 volume of The National Jurist. The study referenced in the article, entitled “The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” compared performance between students taking their notes by hand versus those who typed their notes. The study concluded that, while the efficiency of typing appeals to many students, computers are a detriment to student absorption of information.
According to another study by the University of Louisville Law Review, nearly 90 percent of students using laptops during a class are engaging in online activities unrelated to the class at some point during class—whether it be email, instant messaging, shopping, or checking out their fantasy football league standings. But, even when internet is not an option and they are just using their laptops for note taking purposes, their learning may still be impaired because they are not processing the information. By taking handwritten notes, students are forced to listen carefully and analyze what the most important pieces of information are. This process is called “encoding” and is the key to cementing learning—and it doesn’t happen when students are just transcribing what the professor says.
So should we ban all laptops? Not necessarily. Some classes make use of technology during class and many students get nervous trying to take notes without their computers. However, it might be worth informing students that they may be doing a disservice to themselves by choosing to use their computers in the classroom.