In college classrooms, laptops are a divisive subject, with some appreciating their functionality and others bemoaning the danger of distraction. A recent study examined how banning laptops affected student performance and enjoyment in an intro level university course on American politics.

Researchers conducted the study over two semesters with two different back-to-back classes each term. In one class, the professor banned laptops; in the other, she allowed students to use them however they wanted. Besides this difference, the course was completely the same regarding the professor, lecture content, teaching style, and assignments. During the course, students completed writing assignments and took three exams. After the course, they completed a typical end-of-term anonymous course evaluation measuring how much they liked the class. Researchers collected data on all of these points as well as student attendance.

Surprisingly, the results revealed that students in the banned-laptop class had worse attendance rates and lower assignment grades than students who could use their laptops. Students who could not use laptops attended 1-2 fewer classes depending on the term, and they scored an average of 6% worse on the response papers and worse on the end-of-term final. In addition, student evaluations showed no huge differences. Students valued the course material and instructor similarly regardless of whether or not laptops were banned in their section.

These results are surprising because many studies on laptop use in classrooms have focused on the dangers of multitasking and student distraction. These results show, however, that banning laptops could be even worse for student performance than the distraction they pose. To solidify this finding more studies need to be conducted controlling for class time and using different school subjects.

Elliott-Dorans, L. R. (2018). To ban or not to ban? The effect of permissive versus restrictive laptop policies on student outcomes and teaching evaluations. Computers & Education, 126(1), 183–200.

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