Category Archives: taking notes

Conforming to the System of School?

This post from NPR titled, “Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away”, was shared multiple times on social media, and I shared it was well.

I found it to be an interesting piece, but the beginning really stuck out to me.  I have bolded some of the parts below that really drew my attention.

As laptops become smaller and more ubiquitous, and with the advent of tablets, the idea of taking notes by hand just seems old-fashioned to many students today. Typing your notes is faster — which comes in handy when there’s a lot of information to take down. But it turns out there are still advantages to doing things the old-fashioned way.

For one thing, research shows that laptops and tablets have a tendency to be distracting — it’s so easy to click over to Facebook in that dull lecture. And a study has shown that the fact that you have to be slower when you take notes by hand is what makes it more useful in the long run.

In the study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles sought to test how note-taking by hand or by computer affects learning.

“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,” Mueller tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “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.”

First of all, I do not think lectures are bad, but I do think “dull lectures” are.  Interesting thing is that we expect that students pay attention to a “dull lecture” while I watch so many people in organizations choose Facebook or email over “dull staff meetings”.  There should be accountability to not only the learner, but the educator in this situation.  Encouraging things like back-channels. or providing the information before and encouraging learners to create something from it, is actually a much better way to have students “retain” information than listening to a “dull lecture”.  It is not that content isn’t important, but what you create and connect from this content is where the powerful and deep learning happens.

The second part that stuck out to me is when the article says “people”, not “some people”.  The reality is that not all people are the same, but in this article they are using technology (both the pen/pencils and the computer, not only the computer) to standardize.  Not all people work this way. In fact, whether you give me a pencil or a laptop, I am never furiously writing notes down. Ever.  I will write only what resonates with me, but with a computer, I might google quotes or applicable articles that I will save for reading later.  I might not be “listening” as much,  but I could actually be learning more, just not necessarily from the person lecturing at that exact moment.  Is the focus on what I am learning from the person standing in front of me, or what I am learning on the topic in general. These aren’t always the same thing.

Many educators on social media reiterated the findings and shared how they made all students use pencils instead of laptops.  The problem with this approach is that we assume one way works for all.  What we need to realize is that some students benefit from having a laptop, and some from using a pencil.  Choices are beneficial.  Some students will need more guidance than others, but we also need to realize that we should never force students to use what works for us over what works for them.

As a student in K-12, I was single-handedly responsible for supporting the paper reinforcement business in the 80’s.  Many of my notes would eventually be torn out of my book, but even if they stayed in my binder, they were never beneficial to me.  This is not to say that this process wasn’t beneficial to others, just not for me.  But was the problem here that I didn’t conform to the system, or that the system didn’t conform to me?

Technology should personalize, not standardize.  We need to understand that we live in a time where there are more ways to reach more kids.  To lump all kids together and have them do the exact same thing is doing an incredible disservice to the learners of today.

Technology should personalize, not standardize.

Taking Notes vs. Taking a Picture of Notes; Which Wins?

Although I have seen this picture before, I saw it tweeted again recently:

Taking Notes

Although this seems like a no-brainer as a method to quickly capture information, there is also the challenge that if you want to “retain” information, writing it down is a much better method.  In an article titled, “Want to retain information? Take notes with a pen, not a laptop”, the author shares the following:

To examine the possible advantages of longhand note taking, researchers from Princeton and UCLA subjected students to several TED Talks and then – after a break featuring “distractor tasks” designed to disrupt memory – quizzed them on their recall of the content. Students were equipped with either (internet-free) laptops or paper notebooks while they watched the talks and instructed to take notes as they normally would for a class. Test questions included both factual recall (names, dates, etc.) or conceptual applications of the information.

Because the quantity and quality of notes have been previously shown to impact academic performance, students’ notes were also analyzed for both word count, and the degree to which they contained verbatim language from the talks. In general, students who take more notes fare better than those who fewer notes, but when those notes contain more verbatim overlap (the mindless dictation issue) performance suffers. As one might expects, students who watched the TED Talks equipped with laptop were able to take down more notes, since typing kicks hand-writing’s butt in terms of speed. However, the luxury of quick recording also resulted in the typed notes having significantly more verbatim overlap than the written ones, and this was reflected in test scores. While, laptop and longhand note takers both fared similarly on factual questions, those taking the tedious pen-and-paper notes had a definite edge on the conceptual questions. So while laptops allowed students to generate more notes (on average a good thing), their tendency to encourage writing down information word-for-word appeared to hinder the processing of information.

So one is easier and much less time consuming, and one seems to improve the ability to “retain” information and be able to share it back.  So which one is better for learning?

How about neither?

The ability to simply obtain information and recite it back is not necessarily learning as much as it is regurgitation.  I might better be able to retain the facts shared, but it doesn’t mean I understand them.  On the other hand, if I am taking a picture, putting it in my camera roll and doing nothing with that information, then really, what good is that?

What is important here is how you make your own connections for deep learning.  Taking a picture is obviously much less time consuming (why would not just give the information over in the first place?) than writing notes, so with the extra time, the ability to do something with the information is where the powerful opportunities for learning happen.  For example, taking this picture and writing a blog post on it, will help me more than simply retweeting the picture out in the first place.  When I speak, I try to challenge people to create something with the information I have shared, whether it is write a blog post, reflection, podcast, video, or any other type of media.  If they really want to process what I have shared, they will need to make their own connections, not the connections I have made for them.

Having easy access to the information is great, but what we do with it, is what really matters.

“The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).” Thomas Friedman