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Computers in the classroom--boon or bane?

March 26, 2001

Access to the Internet may harm students' grades, says a recent study.

Researchers at Cornell University tracked the amount of time some 80 communication and computer science students spent on the Web, both at home and in class, and examined how those students fared in terms of grading at the end of the course.

Communication students, who were browsing the Web during class as part of their study of the role of the Internet in communication, fared well, scoring higher than others did in the course.

Computer students, whose studies were unrelated to the Web, didn't fare so well. The more time they spent browsing during class, the worse their grades.

Heavy at-home surfing can affect grades negatively as well. Communication students who spent more time surfing the Net at home had lower scores than students who spent little time Web-browsing.

Geri Gay, professor of communication and one of the authors of the study, believes computers can be effective teaching tools as long as students are focused on class activity. "It is going to require a lot of thinking on the part of academics to figure out how to incorporate computers effectively," she says.

For more information about the study, see the March 21 edition of "The Chronicle of Higher Education." An article about the study also will appear in a special issue of "Educational Technology and Society" in July.