Note taking

Wednesday 5 August 2015

One of the responsibilities that all teachers have is to guide their students in how to study. One of the key pillars of this is effective note taking. Many schools do set aside some separate time to train their students collectively in study methods, and several universities have published some very helpful notes on how to study, e.g. Reading University. Even so, a good teacher will advise their students on how best to take notes in their own class to complement their particular style of teaching. The traditional way of taking notes is to use pen and paper but in recent years much has changed. It is now quite common to see students taking notes directly on their laptop and/or taking photographs with a smart phone or tablet and even recording or videoing the lesson directly.

Some recent research by Pam Mueller from Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer from the University of California, Los Angeles has compared the use of longhand note taking using pen and paper with laptop note taking. The results, published recently in Psychological Science, may be surprising to some. They found that students taking notes in longhand responded much better afterwards both to conceptual application questions and to factual recall questions about a series of TED talks they had attended compared with those using digital means. These results held true both immediately afterwards and one week later, when the students were all allowed to use their notes to study for ten minutes beforehand. They found that students using laptops recorded a much greater number of words and detail than those using longhand but the digital notes seemed to be more just mindless transcription. It seems that the process of students using their own words to process and summarize what was being said meant that they had to listen and understand the content better rather than just focusing on what was being projected on a screen. Even when those using digital methods were asked specifically to use their own words they discovered that the request for non-verbatim note-taking was largely ineffective and students still tended to use their laptop to just transcribe verbatim.

Smart phones, laptops, tablets etc. all have their role in the modern classroom but maybe it is still worth training your students in old-fashioned pen and paper note taking.

Comments 2

Adrian THOMPSON 12 September 2019 - 06:29

Hello Geoff,

I was discussing this topic with a colleague and they warned me that this research may not take into account learners with dyslexia, for whom an appropriate computer display can be a life-saver. Just thought that might be worth adding...

Geoffrey Neuss 12 September 2019 - 07:51

Hi Adrian, I think this is a good point to make. There are some useful tips on note taking from students that do have dyslexia from Yale University see /

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