graduate students' attitudes towards computers, student beliefs about computers, computer distractions in classrooms, memory recall and computer use in higher education, unstructured computer use, doctoral students, computer distractions in higher education, laptop computers, Internet access in the classroom, Internet distractions


The use of computers equipped with Internet access by students during face-to-face (F2F) class sessions is perceived as academically beneficial by a growing number of students and faculty members in universities across the United States. Nevertheless, some researchers suggest unstructured computer use detached from the immediate class content may negatively influence student participation, increase distraction levels, minimize recall of recently presented information, and decrease student engagement. This study investigates graduate students' beliefs about computer use with Internet access during graduate face-to-face lecture classes in which computer use is neither mandated nor integrated in the class and the effect of such use on student recall. Methods include a 44-item questionnaire to investigate graduate students' beliefs about computers and two experiments to investigate the influence of computer use during a lecture on students' memory recall. One experimental group (open laptop) used computers during a lecture while the other (closed laptop) did not. Both groups were given the same memory recall test after the lectures, and the resulting scores were analyzed. Two weeks later, a second phase of the experiment was implemented in which laptop groups were reversed. Results from the first experiment indicated no statistically significant difference in recall scores between the open laptop group (M = 54.90, SD = 19.65) and the closed laptop group (M = 42.86, SD = 16.68); t (29) = -1.82, p = .08 (two tailed). Conversely, the second experiment revealed statistically significant differences in scores between the open laptop (M = 39.67, SD = 15.97) and the closed laptop group (M = 59.29, SD = 26.88); t (20.89) = 2.37, p = .03 (two tailed). The magnitude of the difference in mean scores (mean difference = 19.62, 95% CI: 2.39 to 36.85) was large (eta squared = 0.17). Multiple regression analysis suggests two factors accounted for 10% of the variance in recall scores: (1) students' beliefs about distractions from computer use, and (2) beliefs about the influence of computer use on memory recall. Based on survey findings, participants (N=116) viewed computers and Internet access in graduate classes as helpful academic tools, but distractions from computer use were major sources of concern for students who used computers in graduate classes and those who did not. Additionally, participants believed academic productivity would increase if instructors integrated computer use appropriately in the curricula. Results of the survey and experiments suggest unstructured computer use with Internet access in the graduate classroom is strongly correlated with increased student distractions and decreased memory recall. Thus, restricting unstructured computer use is likely to increase existing memory recall levels, and increasing unstructured computer use is likely to reduce memory recall. Recommendations include changes in the way students use computers, pedagogical shifts, computer integration strategies, modified seating arrangements, increased accountability, and improved interaction between instructors and students.


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Graduation Date



Gunter, Glenda


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Education


Educational Research, Technology and Leadership

Degree Program









Release Date

November 2012

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)

Included in

Education Commons