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Grade Smarter

Electronic Devices in Class…No? Or Yes.

Electronic devices in class such as smartphones, laptops, and the internet are integral to everyday life, particularly for college students. However, studies show that electronic devices can lead to a distracting learning environment and, even more importantly, actually inhibit learning. Since electronics are almost expected by students in class, you should have clear electronic device policy.

More often than not, faculty find electronic devices in class a hindrance to learning, and research backs up their feelings. For example, according to an article appropriately titled, Logged in and Zoned Out, “Michigan State University researchers studied laptop use in an introductory psychology course and found the average time spent browsing the web for non-class-related purposes was 37 minutes. Students spent the most time on social media, email, watching videos, and on shopping websites. And their academic performance suffered. Internet use was a significant predictor of students’ final exam score even when their intelligence and motivation were taken into account,” said Susan Ravizza, associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study.



Smartphones are no better. In a study by Jeffrey H. Kuznekoff “participants in three different study groups (control, low-distraction, and high-distraction) watched a video lecture, took notes on that lecture, and took two learning assessments after watching it. Students who were not using their mobile phones wrote down 62% more information in their notes, took more detailed notes, were able to recall more detailed information from the lecture, and scored a full letter grade and a half higher on a multiple choice test than those students who were actively using their mobile phones.”

Electronic Device Policy in Syllabus

Explaining to students what types of electronic devices in class are appropriate may save you some frustration. As with many of these policies, you may or may not want to put this in your syllabus but you should be clear to students what you expect. Here are some examples from the University of Pennsylvania, Center for Teaching & Learning:

  • You may use laptops or tablets in this class to consult online readings or to take notes. However, any other use of these devices and the use of cell phones is strictly prohibited. Place your phone on mute before you come to class. Violating this policy will negatively impact your participation grade.
  • Students may not use any electronic devices (computers or cellphones) during this class.
  • Because this class is focused on learning together, common courtesy dictates that you should not use laptops and cell phones for anything other than the topics of our class (so for example shopping and texting your friends is prohibited). However, if quickly checking the web for some reference in class helps you follow or make sense of my or other students’ comments, please feel free to do so. If I find that you are abusing this policy, I will ask you to turn off the device. Repeated infractions will lower your participation grade.

This article is part of a three-part series of how educators can approach the use of electronic devices in class. Read next week’s article to find out how educators can use electronic devices in class in a more positive manner.


Mark Espinola
CEO + Founder of GradeHub

Ravizza SM, Uitvlugt MG, Fenn KM. (2016). Logged in and Zoned Out: How Laptop Internet Use Relates to Classroom Learning. Psychological Science, 1-10.

Junco R. (2012). In-class multitasking and academic performance. Computers in Human Behavior 28(6): 2236-2243.