Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) in the US 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, reading emails, shopping for items such as clothes and watching videos. Researchers found that 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 at MSU and lead author of the study.
"The detrimental relationship associated with non-academic internet use raises questions about the policy of encouraging students to bring their laptops to class when they are unnecessary for class use," Ravizza said.
The research was conducted in a one-hour, 50-minute lecture course with 507 students taught by Kimberly Fenn, MSU associate professor of psychology and study co-author.
In all, 127 students agreed to participate in the study, which involved logging onto a proxy server when the students went online. Of those participants, 83 checked into the proxy server in more than half of the 15 course sessions during the semester and were included in the final analysis. Intelligence was measured by ACT scores.
Motivation to succeed in class was measured by an online survey sent to each participant when the semester was over. Interestingly, using the internet for class purposes did not help students' test scores.
"There were no internet-based assignments in this course, which means that most of the 'academic use' was downloading lecture slides in order to follow along or take notes," Ravizza said.
Previous research has shown that taking notes on a laptop is not as beneficial for learning as writing notes by hand. "Once students crack their laptop open, it is probably tempting to do other sorts of internet-based tasks that are not class-relevant," she added. The findings appear in the journal Psychological Science.