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Using electronic devices in lectures affects exam performance – study

Using electronic devices in lectures affects exam performance – study

By Alison Kershaw, Press Association Education Correspondent

Students who check their smartphones and tablets during lectures could find they pay the price when it comes to exam time, research suggests.

A new study has concluded that students scored the equivalent of half a grade less in end-of-term tests if they were allowed to use their devices for non-academic reasons in their classes.

The findings also suggests that access to technology during lessons has an impact on the whole class, not just those who use their laptops, phones and tablets.

The small-scale study, conducted by researchers at Rutgers University in the United States, involved 118 university students over one term.

Those taking part were banned from using internet-enabled electronic devices for half of their lectures and allowed to access them for the other half.

When they were allowed to use their devices, students were asked to say whether they had used them for non-academic reasons.

The study, published in Educational Psychology, found that having access to devices did not lead to lower scores during tests within classes – meaning that they did not have less understanding of the class.

But it did lower their scores in end-of-term exams by around five percent – equivalent to half a grade – suggesting that their long-term retention of the lecture was affected.

Where electronics were allowed, performance was worse among both students who used their devices and those that did not, the study found.

It says: “Divided attention had no effect on performance of the classroom lesson questions.

“However, following the lessons in which cell phones and laptops were allowed, performance was poorer on the unit exam and final exam questions.

“This finding demonstrates for the first time that the main effect of divided attention in the classroom is not an immediate effect of selection or switching on comprehension but a long-term effect of divided attention on retention.”

Study author Professor Arnold Glass said: “These findings should alert the many dedicated students and instructors that dividing attention is having an insidious effect that is impairing their exam performance and final grade.

“To help manage the use of devices in the classroom, teachers should explain to students the damaging effect of distractions on retention – not only for themselves, but for the whole class.”

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