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Technology and Academic Performance

News Story

Melissa Bowley ’17 and professor Anna Shostya compared student reliance on technology in the United States and China. They found that regardless of where you are in the world, the work simply needs to get done.

In 2017, higher education and technology are inextricably linked. Students rely heavily on laptops, mobile phones, and the all-encompassing internet to complete assignments, in many cases preferring the ease and speed of online access and sourcing over traditional forms of library-based research and note-taking.

Noticing the impact technology has had on virtually every aspect of the college experience, Melissa Bowley ’17, an economics major, teamed up with Dyson Economics Professor Anna Shostya, PhD, to further investigate the necessity of technological resources in college. Their research took them halfway around the world (literally), as the duo compared the impact of technology on academic performance in both the United States and China.

“I was reading the Wall Street Journal one day, and I saw this article about note-taking in the classroom,” says Bowley.

Intrigued by the article, Bowley thought it’d be interesting to survey Pace students on the issue—and further investigate note-taking methods that students prefer (by hand vs. laptop), and what methods students find more effective.

“People who use laptops for note-taking can take notes perhaps faster, but do they retain the information as well as people who take notes by hand?” says Shostya. “That’s what she wanted to investigate.”

Initially, Bowley was looking to investigate in a local fashion, and survey students at Pace. However, Melissa happened to be enrolled in Shostya’s comparative economics course, From Wall Street to the Great Wall, which culminates in a two week trip to the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (USST). The duo realized that the research would greatly benefit from exploring the issue in comparative fashion—especially given governmental restrictions that block internet access on Chinese campuses.

Bowley and Shostya proceeded to survey 98 students at USST and 98 students at Pace, asking a number of questions regarding note-taking, laptop usage, and reliance on technology. What they discovered was that despite internet restrictions, the distinctions weren't exactly stratospheric. 

“The results were pretty similar,” said Shostya. “For example, we found that in China, 67% use desktops for personal use, and 33% academic use. In the United States it was really similar—60% personal, and 40% academic.”

“Our main takeaway was that students are students everywhere,” says Bowley.

The duo noted that United States students are more likely to use laptops in the classroom, finding that Chinese students prefer traditional methods of note-taking by hand. However, they reason that this might have to do with the reality that internet access isn’t readily available in the classroom in China, erasing the possibility for note-taking to be supplemented with online research (or online distractions). Shostya and Bowley noted that for this reason, Chinese students are much more reliant on their mobile phones, which aren’t as restricted as laptops and desktops.

“When you have comparable samples, it’s really interesting how technology has the ability to transcend cultural and economic differences. Some of the graphs were so similar, it was astonishing,” says Bowley.

Shostya and Bowley were also very impressed with the resourcefulness of Chinese students, who were able to work around restrictions that many American students take for granted to get their assignments done, succeed in the classroom, and help power China to economic vitality.

As she nears graduation—and gears up to present her findings on May 4 at Pace’s student-faculty research day—Bowley notes that the research was one of her most rewarding experiences at the University, and will surely assist greatly as her Pace Path takes her beyond undergraduate study.

“If anyone does research, it has to be something you’re passionate about," says Bowley. "It was a really holistic experience. It allowed me to use my technical skills that I learned in class and apply theory to the real world. It was really testing, and I’m very proud of it.”