Note: "Laptop" is used in this document as a proxy for a broad range of devices, including tablets, smartphones, etc.
Numerous research studies over the past several years have found generally adverse learning impacts of having laptops in classrooms (see the links below).
Some of this literature is mainly an argument about how using laptops causes students to harm their own learning. However, not all students are alike, and some may feel they’re excellent multitaskers or that using a laptop actually helps them (presumably almost everyone in those studies felt that way...). Anyway, they may feel that they should be allowed to take responsibility for their own education.
The research, however, also shows a much more pernicious problem. Student learning is also negatively impacted by someone else’s laptop use. This isn’t surprising: screens have flashing content, keyboards make noise, and distractors are, in general, distracting. This is where an individual’s exercise of rights become problematic: you have the right to squander your educational opportunities, but not to take away those of others.
At the same time, laptops are sometimes useful in coursework. For example, you might be asked to try out a program, especially for a concept you haven't seen before (and hence can’t imagine in your head).
The following articles are not scientific literature but summarize the research in easily-accessible terms.
To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand by Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, 2014
Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting. by Susan Dynarski, The New York Times, 2017
The following are research papers you can read to learn more.
The laptop and the lecture: The effects of multitasking in learning environments by Helene Hembrooke and Geri Gay, Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 2003
In-class laptop use and its effects on student learning by Carrie B. Fried, Computers & Education, 2007
Daydreaming and its correlates in an educational environment by Sophie Lindquist and John McLean, Learning and Individual Differences, 2011
Examining the impact of off-task multi-tasking with technology on real-time classroom learning by Eileen Wood, Lucia Zivcakova, Petrice Gentile, Karin Archer, Domenica De Pasquale, Amanda Nosko, Computers & Education, 2011
The impact of laptop-free zones on student performance and attitudes in large lectures by Nancy Aguilar-Roca, Adrienne Williams, and Diane O’Dowd, Computers & Education, 2012
Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers by Faria Sana, Tina Weston, Nicholas J. Cepeda, Computers & Education, 2013
The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, Psychological Science, 2014
The impact of computer usage on academic performance: Evidence from a randomized trial at the United States Military Academy by Susan Payne Carter, Kyle Greenberg, Michael S. Walker, Economics of Education Review, 2017
Logged in and zoned out: How laptop internet use relates to classroom learning by Susan Ravizza, Mitchell Uitvlugt, Kimberly Fenn, Psychological Science, 2017
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