Love ’em or hate ’em, student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are here to stay. Parts <a href="https://www.teachingprofessor.com/free-article/its-time-to-discuss-student-evaluations-bias-with-our-students-seriously/" target="_blank"...
Laptops and tablet devices of various sorts are everywhere in college classrooms at this point. Students use them to take notes. Keying is quicker than writing notes longhand, and typed notes are subsequently easier to read. Faculty have two legitimate worries; students are using their devices for activities other than note-taking, and bright screens filled with colorful graphics can distract more than just the student who's not taking notes. The authors referenced below think this is an especially serious problem in large lecture halls where students sit close together and it's all but impossible for the teacher to control who's doing what with their electronic devices.
They wondered whether laptop zones might be a solution. To test their theory, they designated laptop zones in two sections of a large, introductory biology course. Two other sections where students sat without seating restrictions acted as the control.
The authors' analysis is well-designed and creative. It's explained in detail in this research article. Here's a rundown of their findings. If they are of interest, this is an excellent article that extensively references related research.
Here's the research team's overall conclusion: “Although the creation of a laptop-free zone did not affect overall student performance, zoning had a positive impact on the class environment and student attitudes. Although zoned laptop users engaged in more off-task behavior, that wasn't associated with a decrease in performance.” They offer an important caveat: “Because the variable we manipulated in this study was zoning, not laptop use, the underlying causes for why laptop users underperformed are not known” (p. 1307).
Reference: Aguilar-Roca, N.M., Williams, A.E., and O'Dowd, D.K., (2012). The impact of laptop-free zones on student performance and attitudes in large lectures. Computers & Education, 59, 1300–1308.