When it comes to boosting grades and encouraging student engagement, the pen may be mightier than the laptop.

University professors and education experts across Canada are getting behind the idea of limiting students’ use of laptops during lectures, which many argue have become a distracting presence in modern lecture halls.

The answer, some suggest, is the trusty pen-and-paper method.

Paul Thagard, a philosophy professor at the University of Waterloo, banned laptops from his classroom five years ago after he found himself competing against the Internet for students’ attention.

“They’ve got a false view of the mind,” Thagard told CTV News Channel Monday. “They think they can do things on their laptops and also get something out of class.”

But recent research begs to differ. A Canadian study published in 2013 compared test scores of students on laptops during a lecture versus students who took notes by hand. They found that students on laptops had 17 per cent lower marks – the difference between a B+ and a B- -- than those with a pen and paper.

The researchers also compared the difference between students multitasking on laptops during a lecture to students on laptops not multitasking. Researchers asked one group of students to complete a series of tasks on their computers when they felt they had free time during the lesson.

When quizzed on the lecture’s material, the multitasking students scored 11 per cent lower than those not assigned the tasks.

Before introducing the laptop moratorium, Thagard conducted his own unscientific research. He asked a graduate student to sit in class and oversee exactly what students were doing on their laptops.

He found that about 85 per cent of students were doing things unrelated to the lesson – surfing on Facebook, YouTube or cruising the web.

“If you’re paying attention to that, you’re not paying attention to what’s happening in the class,” Thagard said.

The professor says that banning laptops has improved class discussions and made students more prone to raise their hands. He also provides notes online so that students can focus on engagement rather than jotting down his lecture.

“Every year I get a couple of complaints but I also get compliments because students thank me because they’re able to learn more in class,” he said. “It’s not just better for me, it’s better for the students because they’re engaged.”

With files from CTV News Channel