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"Laptop Learning" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Despite the distraction potential of laptops in college classrooms, research from the University of Michigan shows that they can actually increase students' engagement and learning.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: lapping sounds) 'Lapping' It Up

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: classroom sounds) I'm not about to lecture you on how laptops in classrooms can sometimes be more of a distraction than a teaching aid -- because an inventive professor at the University of Michigan has changed all that. Perry Sampson has developed an interactive system that according to a new survey -- engages students, and makes those laptops an effective tool for higher learning.

The dilemma you face with a laptop in the classroom is that some students might drift into social networking sites, e-mail and chats, instead of paying attention. Sampson's system found a way to integrate laptops with what's being taught in class. It's called "lecturetools" -- and is being used by over 400 colleges and universities.

Here are some of the advantages over less-interactive systems: Got a question you're too embarrassed to ask out loud? There's an anonymous chat window where you can have it answered by the professor's aide for everyone to see without interrupting class. You can keep the prof up on your understanding of each segment by rating how well you're getting it. The teacher automatically knows how to proceed and the system lets you take notes directly on lecture slides.

Even though the potential for distraction is still there, about three-quarters of the students surveyed say lecturetools on their laptop keeps them more engaged and helps their learning. To get learning to a higher speed, sounds like all we need is a few more 'laps' (Sound effect: group running sound) -- work it out.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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