With the creation of the laptop, handwritten note-taking has slowly started to become less common. With laptops becoming more affordable, students have started to integrate them into their studying habits and routines. However, does newer always mean better? In this post, I’ll take a look at the evidence to see why writing by hand is a more effective form of note taking. But, in knowing that students are using computers for note taking, I will also discuss how students can bridge the gap between handwritten note-taking and the use of technology in the classroom.
An integral part of all note-taking is the idea of working memory. Working memory is defined as “the ability to temporarily hold and manipulate limited amounts of information” (Bui & Myerson, 2014, p. 13). The use of working memory is how students process information in lecture: we listen to the professor, think about what he or she says, and reshape the information into a context or wording we understand best. This raises the question: Is it better to take notes by hand or by using a laptop? As Stacy and Cain (2015) note, “Muller and Oppenheimer concluded that students who took notes on a laptop did not remember conceptual material as well as those who took handwritten notes…” (p. 2). This finding suggests that to retain concepts and theories at a more efficient level, handwritten notes are recommended. Handwriting your notes allows you to actually synthesize the information, whereas trying to copy the words your professor is saying verbatim does not. To explain this, let us take a look at Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy bases thinking skills on a spectrum. Higher skills on the spectrum are activities like creating and evaluating, and lower skills are remembering and understanding (Forehand, 2005). So, those of us who type notes may be good at remembering the material covered in lecture. We may be able to recall facts easily. However, those of us who write notes by hand may be much better at understanding the material covered in lecture. We are able to process the information first and comprehend what the professor is saying, so we can then write it down in manageable chunks. This leads to learning the material at a deeper level of understanding than merely relying on trying to capture the professor’s words verbatim as the professor says them.
Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California took on the task to further study the impact of laptop note-taking versus handwritten note-taking on students’ education. In three separate studies, Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) found that students who used the handwritten note-taking style outperformed their laptop-using counterparts when it came to conceptual-application questions. Conceptual-application questions are questions dealing with concepts and theories learned in lecture and how they can be applied in real world situations (i.e., the understanding and applying levels of Bloom’s). In one of those three studies, it was also found that handwritten note-takers did better when faced with factual-recall questions, as compared to students taking notes with a laptop. Factual-recall questions are used to test your ability to remember certain bits of information (i.e., the remembering level of Bloom’s). The article goes as far as even stating: “The studies we report here show that laptop use can negatively affect performance on educational assessments – or perhaps especially – when the computer is used for its intended function of easier note taking,” (Mueller and Oppenheimer, 2014, p. 8). The evidence shows that the use of laptops as note-taking machines is actually hindering our ability to learn and understand concepts. The staples we as students learn in university are theories and concepts, and with many of us using laptops to take notes, we may be actually hurting our own education and learning.
Now, before you start thinking that technology is terrible in the lecture halls and that we should all throw out our laptops, let’s get into the ways where we can use technology to our advantage in the classroom. Technology can be a great thing; it provides us with large amounts of storage in one convenient location, it allows us access to the internet where we can learn more about the subjects we are studying, and it allows us to share and collaborate on our work. I’ve given some thought to ways that we can get the benefits of handwritten note-taking while keeping our notes stored in a convenient place and having them remain easily accessible. Here are a few ideas:
Tablets are one of the most convenient forms of portable technology currently available. They are light, small, and usually as fast as the average laptop. However, when it comes to the purpose of education, they have an added bonus that most laptops do not have: they have a touchscreen display. This allows the user to interact with the tablet without a keyboard. If you get a stylus and a note-taking application, you can take your notes by hand, reaping the learning benefits, while being able to store your notes in a convenient and easily accessible place.
Rocketbook Wave Smart Notebook
This is one of the more interesting designs for a notebook. The Rocketbook Wave is a notebook that allows you to scan your notes directly onto cloud services like Google Drive or Evernote using a smartphone. The notebook uses little symbols located on the bottom of the page that you can set up to go to specific locations.
As well, if you want to improve the longevity of this notebook, use erasable pens. Erasable pens’ ink is removed by heat, so the wonderful people who designed this made the notebook microwave safe so that you can stick it in the microwave (with a mug on top of the notebook) and completely clear your notebook of notes.
LiveScribe Echo Smartpen
The LiveScribe Echo Smartpen is a pen that records what you write as you write it. It comes with internal storage, enabling it to record thousands of pages of notes. Those notes can then be transferred onto your computer via USB. This allows you to take your notes in class and then store them on your computer without typing out your notes or scanning them.
Whether you are taking notes by hand, using a laptop, or using some of the other options listed above, note-taking can still be difficult for some students. If you feel that you would like to improve your note-taking skills or want to learn a different way of note-taking, feel free to book a study skills appointment at the Centre for Student Success here. We are always here to help, and we look forward to seeing you!
Bui, D.C. & Myerson, J. (2014). The role of working memory abilities in lecture note-taking. Learning and Individual Differences, 33, 12-22.
Forehand, M. (2005). Bloom’s taxonomy: Original and revised. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/
Mueller, P.A. & Oppenheimer, D.M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science: 1-10. doi: 10.1177/0956797614524581
Stacy, E.M. & Cain, J. (2015). Note-taking and handouts in the digital age. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 79 (7), 1-6.