Oct 18, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Laptop learning has gotten a bad rap lately. A growing body of evidence indicates that using devices, including laptops, tablets, and phones, during class may lead to everything from bad note-taking to poor test performance -- not just for you, but for the other people around you. This does not mean laptops are all bad. In fact, they still have potential to help you be a better student -- if you use yours the right way, that is.

Read on for a roundup of tips aimed at helping you maximize productivity with your laptop.

1. Learn how to take notes effectively.

Much of the criticism of laptops in the classroom pertains to note-taking. While most people assume that laptops are better because they are faster, this is not necessarily the case.

Psychology PhD Pam A. Mueller told NPR of the findings of a study comparing note-taking by hand versus note-taking by computer, "When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can. The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can't write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them."

While returning to taking notes by hand may be the simplest fix, people and their devices are inextricably intertwined in society today. This does not mean you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of inferior notes. Rather, there are some things you can do to raise your electronic note-taking game, including engaging with your notes by “chunking", transcribing key concepts into your own words, adding questions to prompt recap, and summarizing the notes in your own words.

2. Avoid installing distracting programs.

Multitasking is another major problem associated with laptop use in the classroom. While we often think of the ability to multitask as a good quality, the reality is that multitasking actually inhibits productivity. The takeaway? Removing obviously distracting programs like games and music is just the start. Also turn off all push notifications so you are not being distracted by emails, tweets, direction messages, Facebook likes, and so on. Doing so will allow you to focus on the task at hand, and will also help you avoid annoying or distracting your classmates.

Do you find yourself frequently switching over to the internet during class, meanwhile? If so, there are various apps and extensions you can use to restrict internet access and block certain websites, thereby quashing the temptation to web search during class.

3. Use it to communicate with your teachers and classmates.

Before the digital age, the only line of communication between college students and professors was face to face. However, this was not always practical or possible. Whether you’re asking for clarification on an assignment or requesting a meeting to discuss a concern, laptops and other devices make communicating with professors easier than ever.

Additionally, many college classes now use Google Hangouts and other online communication platforms. Using these can help you engage with your professors and classmates, as well.

4. Clean up and organize your desktop.

We all know that organization is essential to college success. And yet many students overlook an important factor: Keeping their laptops cleaned and organized. While a messy desktop can confuse you and slow you down, a clean desktop can boost both speed and access. This is also a good opportunity to download any helpful apps, such as leading note-taking app Evernote.

5. Consider keeping it out of the classroom.

Not all students use laptops the same way. Learning how to use yours to your advantage is important. Despite your best efforts, however, you might still determine that your laptop is doing more harm than good. In that case, returning to good old-fashioned pen and paper in the classroom may be your best bet. (And, of course, you can still continue to take advantage of all of the benefits of your laptop outside of the classroom.) While you may feel like a luddite for going this route, know that this decision is actually backed by the latest scientific research.

Are you an avowed fan of note-taking by hand or by laptop? Have you switched from one to the other? If so, please share your experiences in the comments section.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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