NEWS BRIEF: In this day and age, the internet can be a useful tool for students and teachers if used in the proper context. However, as with all good things, there is a limit to its effectiveness.
As a tool, the internet provides a wealth of information for students who are researching subject matter for assignments. But when that surfing turns to non-class-related topics - such as social media, reading email, shopping, and cat videos (among other things) - test scores and overall academic performance suffer.
This is the finding of a recent study conducted by Michigan State University researchers, which found that even the most intelligent and motivated of students can suffer the consequences.
For the study, the researchers followed 127 students in an introductory psychology course taught by Kimberly Fenn, MSU associate professor of psychology and study co-author.
Students were required to log onto a proxy server when they went online. Of the 127 participants, 83 checked into the proxy server in more than half of the 15 course sessions during the semester and were included in the final analysis.
Intelligence was measured by ACT scores. Motivation to succeed in class was measured by an online survey sent to each participant when the semester was over.
In the end, the researchers found that the average time spent browsing the web for non-class-related purposes was 37 minutes. Interestingly, internet use for class purposes didn't even help students' test scores either. But Susan Ravizza, associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study, said she wasn't surprised.
"There were no internet-based assignments in this course," Ravizza said in a statement, "which means that most of the ‘academic use' was downloading lecture slides in order to follow along or take notes."
Previous research, she added, has shown that taking notes on a laptop is not as beneficial for learning as writing notes by hand.
"Once students crack their laptop open, it is probably tempting to do other sorts of internet-based tasks that are not class-relevant."
So this brings up an interesting question about individual classroom laptop policies.
"The detrimental relationship associated with non-academic internet use," Ravizza said, "raises questions about the policy of encouraging students to bring their laptops to class when they are unnecessary for class use."
As for Ravizza, she has stopped posting lecture slides before class. Instead, she waits until the week before the exam to upload them so there is no reason for students to bring a laptop to class.
"I now ask students to sit in the back if they want to bring their laptop to class so their internet use is not distracting other students," she said.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.