The Future of Note Taking

We are taught to take notes in class, but note taking has changed dramatically over the past decade. Nowadays we see a variety of classroom note taking cultures—-some faculty encourage students to bring laptops to class and use it as a note taking tool, some worry about what’s behind the screen and introducing unnecessary distractions to class. A number of students argue they take better notes using the keyboard, while others are still attached to the traditional pen and paper method. So is there really a better way of note taking?

A recent study conducted by P.A. Mueller and D. M. Oppenheimer suggested that “the pen is mightier than the keyboard.”

The study, “The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking” was published in June, 2014 (the most recent version, full article here) in the journal of Psychological Science.  Mueller and Oppenheimer did three studies with students from Princeton University and University of California, Los Angeles. They discovered that students who used laptops to take notes tended to transcribe lectures.  Students who took notes longhand tended to have fewer notes but they appeared to have better cognitive understanding of the lecture.

I am a longhand note taker myself and I feel a little awkward when I “type out loud” when I’m with a group of people who are all trying to listen to the speaker, not to mention my email notifier is also always on. I had been always happy with my note taking choice until a few years ago my dog ate multiple pages of my research notes. (“My dog ate my homework” is no joke!) I was incredibly lucky that I had finished transcribing those pages and I had a digital copy of the content. While digital materials can get lost too, but effective back up methods makes us feel much more secure. With these being said, what is the future of note taking? I have a few thoughts:

1)   Longhand note taking in class, and then organize and transfer the notes into digital form using a computer after class. This is a good opportunity to review and digest the lecture content too.

2)   Taking notes using a stylus with a tablet. This method is a combination of longhand note taking and technology. Many note taking apps also has recording function, which might be especially useful for language classes.

3)   Use a SmartPen. Students can use the pen function to take notes longhand, and the recording function provides the transcript that’s needed. Again, the voice playback might be especially helpful for language learners. Students can also compare what they had written down to what exactly the professor had said at the time the note was taken. SmartPens have been on the market for many years but so far haven’t been used widely in education settings. The cost might be one of the reasons that contributed to it. However, with the development of technology, SmartPens is likely to become more common among faculty and students, just like many of the technologies we use today. However, there had not been enough research to show how much SmartPens could benefit teaching and learning, further studies are still needed.


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