Should we stop doing homework through the computer?

One adjustment I have had to make from high school to college has been homework. Sure, the numbers of hour I’ve had to study has increased, as well as my workload, but that has yet to be too great of a burden as of yet. No, I am talking about the way that I complete my homework. Six months ago, while in my high school classes, I never had to worry about submitting homework assignments online because it was all done through worksheets. Now I am doing Italian exercises online, creating my own website for my freshman seminar, taking an online class, and of course, posting on this blog. Now I purchase my textbooks online because they are cheaper and easier to access. The reliance on technology in college has made me wonder are there any learning benefits or detriments to using technology so much? I did some research to find out.

I came upon this article written by Rachel Grate. Grate lists three different reasons why reading print is better for you than reading through a screen. The first reason is that your reading comprehension is much improved when reading print (Grate 2014). Grate references an article from by Alison Flood about a study involving 50 people. All of the individuals were to read a short story from writer Elizabeth George, but half were to read through a Kindle and the other half by paper. The readers were then tested on what they had read.


Before I reveal the results of the study, it is important to note that it is difficult to say whether this study was a double blinded study. We do not know how the individuals were chosen to participate in this study. This means that confounding variables such as intelligence, level of higher education, and place of birth could still be at work in this study. We also do not know if the researchers conducting the study were blinded, meaning they can be biased in their findings. Lastly, truly great experiments usually have placebos. Unfortunately it would be impossible to have a placebo in this situation because you can not give somebody a fake Kindle or piece of print to read the story. Now, on to the results.

The readers who did not use print did not do as well as those who did read print when it came to placing 14 different plot points in the order that they occurred. The leader of the study, Anne Mangen, who represents Stavanger University located in Norway (Flood 2014), believes that a possible mechanism could be page flipping. When somebody is flipping through pages it helps them follow the story. If you are using a Kindle you swipe to flip the page, but it is not nearly the same as manually flipping a page yourself. home_bg_newPersonally I do not take much weight to this study. The reasons I listed above, as well as the fact that is only has 50 people makes me hesitant to use this study as evidence.

Flood also references another study. 72 students in tenth grade, all from Norway, were given texts to read. Some were given the text in PDF form on a computer, while others were given text. The students were then tested on what they read, similarly to the above study.  The results of this study were similar to the aforementioned study. The print readers performed better than the PDF readers. Now, just because this study shows a correlation between reading print rather than through a screen and grades does not mean this is a direct causation. As I said, all of the students were from Norway. Norway is a very, very smart country. They cannot represent the whole world due to their intelligence not representing the average Joe. In addition to that, there were only 72 students. The hypothesis that students do better reading print than computer simply cannot be backed up by these two studies.  I would ask for a meta-analysis to be done. Until this is done, we do not know if the results were a false positive or were correct. More studies leads to a lesser probability that chance is the reason for the results. Even the best studies, like the one Andrew showed us about prayer and healing, suffer from chance. However, it was revealed the conclusion that prayer does help with healing was revealed to be a false positive as a meta-analysis was done. When we get more and more studies done on this topic we will have a more clear idea of whether homework should be done or shouldn’t be done through a computer.

I do not like the way in which either of these studies were conducted. Because of this I have decided to make up my own experiment. My study would have at least 10,000 individuals, randomly selected from different places from around the world. Similarly to the above studies, they would be given the same texts, with half reading a computer format and half reading a print format. The texts they would read would be in their appropriate language. This study would be a single blind study. I would not let the researchers conducting the study know whose test results were whose to ensure there were no hidden biases. As I said, a placebo is not possible in this experiment. If this study was done multiple times and got the same result of print readers having better test scores than screen readers, I think the hypothesis that reading print is better for you would have a ton of merit. However, my study can’t be the definitive conclusion on this topic. I would have to publish it and have it readily available for peer review. This is how science works best to find answers. By allowing my study to be peer reviewed, other scientists can find faults in my study that I would not have seen without their expertise.

131216151Doing and reading homework online is an essential part of this generation’s college experience. It’s easier to administer, especially in huge lecture classes, as well as much more time efficient. I think the biggest takeaway from these two studies is that while there may be some merit to reading print rather than reading a screen, there needs to be more studies done with more people involved. Until then, I will continue to use my efficient computer to do my work.

6 thoughts on “Should we stop doing homework through the computer?

  1. Marissa Dorros

    Too much of a good thing can be bad, and the use of computers is no exception to this principle. Computers are obviously beneficial for assignments like these blog posts, yet the use of computers brings additional drawbacks like unreliable technology, or extra time spent trying to use or fix the computer. Many professors including Andrew ban the use of computers in class because of how distracting they can be, and they can be just as distracting at home. I came across this website that summarizes a study which concludes that computers benefit fifth graders’ learning when used for their homework. As you criticized about the studies included in your post, this study also only tests one small group of people, and is not significant enough to prove anything for humans as a whole. Because many individual studies have been conducted, there should be more meta-analyses of the studies.

  2. Michael Robert Szawaluk


    I really enjoyed reading your post. It caught my attention, just like I’m sure it did with most people, because we are doing this assignment through the use of a computer. Most of my teachers in high school discouraged the use of computers while in class and emphasized the important correlation between hand written notes and memory retention. I am not surprised with the outcomes of the studies that you presented. Also, I agree with you that the studies conducted were not thorough enough given the size of the groups participating. I think your idea of a large, thorough study is needed to further examine this topic. I believe the study should go deeper to understand the causes for the results, such as potential distractions while using a computer.

    I think this topic can also lead into many different discussion areas. Technology is taking over our lives and can be a downfall for many. It was not as prevalent when I was in grammar school. Now, grammar school kids have smart phones and many use use computers for all of their homework and reading assignments as well as other technology as their main source of entertainment. If you want to read up on how technology impacts development in children, you should read this article that explains it in detail. Check it out here:

  3. Jason Williams


    I understand the feeling completely when you switch from using paper to all technology. I’m in my junior year but I’ve had semesters where it switches between all paper work and all tech, or mostly a mix. Overall, I had the same initial impressions that you did when it came to doing online homework. In some cases, a physical book is much more preferred to read than a digital copy. But for me, the biggest improvement when using all technology is the convenience. I no longer carry around five books and all my notes in my backpack, because I can have one or two physical copies, and the other books and notes on my laptop. This switch is useful for me because I tend to want to fill empty spaces in my schedule, and if I have 10 minutes extra between classes, I can now use that on homework I would not otherwise be able to access.

  4. Jeremy Perdomo

    Hey Charles! The irony of this article is hilarious, considering that this very assignment was done on an electronic device. Already, that caught my attention and kept me interested in the rest of what you had to say. Nonetheless, your article is one of the best that I have come across, as of now. It is clear that you carefully curated every single detail of this article, and most importantly, kept your ideas organized and coherent.

    Personally, I most definitely avoid technology whenever I can. I prefer to read books in front of me, hand write my notes, and study off of hard copies rather than computer screens. Not only is relying on computers and laptops extremely dangerous, but it takes away from the learning experience, in my opinion. It takes away the fun and creativity of the learning process and creates a more “work” environment. Also, I am not surprised that in your Norway study, the kids that read from a book did better than those who read a PDF; I am sure there is probably a correlation between higher scores and hard copy reading.

    Lastly, if you were at all interested on the various ways that students learn, I researched it and found this perfect article for you. You will probably like it considering you were so passionate about this subject; you will be surprised that some students actually learn best using logic!

  5. Asaad Saleh Salim Al Busaidi

    I liked how you analyzed each experiment and I do agree with you that these results do not provide strong evidence for the hypothesis tested. Regarding the experiment that you would do, I think that it would not be a good idea to test 10,000 individuals because it will cost you too much money to just run the experiment, which I think is not worth spending a lot of money on it, as Andrew mentioned in class that spending a lot of money on hypothesis’s are not really that important in our life, could be a waste of time and money as many researchers said about paying a lot of money in the prayer healing observation. In addition, I personally think that this experiment will not produce unbiased results because almost all of us have learned reading from papers since we were children, which , I think, will cause most subjects in the experiment to have better reading skills from a printed paper, as most of us learned reading from printed paper far ago before we started reading from Kandle or a computer. The link below is for an article in the Scientific American website. It also provides good evidence and argues that reading from printed papers is better than reading from online sources.

  6. Audra Wren Laskey

    This is a really good topic because of the impact computers have on our daily life, especially in the classroom. Now university and high school classes are impossible to take without an electronic device. Though some see good effects while taking notes with these computers, there are rumors going around that the electronic devices screen light could actually be doing damage to your body. Here is an article about the impact the computers screen can have on your eyesight.

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