This past weekend, I visited my alma mater, Duke University, and went to the campus bookstore to buy a yellow legal pad and some new pens. For me, buying new pens and a legal pad is a sign I am about to get down to business. Because even though I love technology and all the benefits of the latest organizational apps, I still write out my to-do list by hand – and typically outline most of my writing and presentations by hand as well.
And I am not alone. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg keeps a notebook and pen around to keep track of her to-do list. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen writes his to-do list (and anti todo list) on a card. So now that we have laptops and iPads, what is most effective way for students (and the rest of us) to take notes if we are interested in retaining the information?
Laptops and iPads bring many benefits into the classroom: students who write slowly or have messy handwriting can type out their notes, and once the document is saved on the device, it’s much more difficult to lose than a single sheet of paper or a notebook (well, hopefully, unless things crash without back-up).
But do taking notes by hand have any benefits over typing? Two psychological scientists compared the methods side by side and ran experiments to see which type of note-taking was more effective in helping students learn (and retain information). They used a class where some students used laptops to take notes and other students used a regular notebook and pen. All the students were instructed to take notes as they usually do.
In the first study, they tested for immediate recall: half an hour after the lecture, the students were quizzed on the material, without any opportunity to review their notes. What the scientists found was that those who took notes by handwriting did better than the ones who used a laptop. In the second study, the students were given one week to study for the exam, as if they were preparing for any other test. Surprisingly, the ones who hand-wrote the notes still performed better.
“Those who took notes in longhand, and were able to study, did significantly better than any of the other students in the experiment — better even than the fleet typists who had basically transcribed the lectures. That is, they took fewer notes overall with less verbatim recording, but they nevertheless did better on both factual learning and higher-order conceptual learning.” Read more here
What does this say about the use of technology in the classroom? While using a laptop or iPad to take notes can lighten up the backpack by eliminating the need to carry multiple notebooks, it may not benefit students because of the nature of its use: advancements in technology are meant to take the “thinking” out of tasks. Much like how calculators have made it quite difficult for people to do simple math calculations in their head (or even on paper), typing out notes may be causing students to be less dependent on listening to the actual lectures because now their fingers can do all the thinking for them.
What do you prefer? Taking notes by hand? Or using the laptop or iPad?