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Using Laptop To Take Notes Lowers Grades 313

Posted by timothy
from the but-improves-slashdot-karma dept.
Meshach writes "A study in the journal Computers & Education found that students who took notes on a laptop got lower marks then student who took notes the traditional way with pen and paper. The study's author hypothesized that using a laptop leads to multitasking (i.e. surfing the net or checking email), which reduces concentration."
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Using Laptop To Take Notes Lowers Grades

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  • by cod3r_ (2031620) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @08:50AM (#44572603)
    Is the problem.. Common sense
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 15, 2013 @09:02AM (#44572709)

      Back when I was in an undergrad psychology course, the general consensus was that the method used triggered different parts of the brain. There is something fundamentally different from moving your finger to a particular location and pressing a key than actually moving your hand around to create a string of letters and then focusing on what you have just created.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Back when I was in an undergrad psychology course, the general consensus was that the method used triggered different parts of the brain. There is something fundamentally different from moving your finger to a particular location and pressing a key than actually moving your hand around to create a string of letters and then focusing on what you have just created.

        Exactly. The act of writing triggers the learning centre of the brain. Additionally, since we rarely write as fast as the teacher/instructor speaks the student is forced to develop their short-term memory which acts as an I/O buffer further leading to improved retention of the information presented in class. Computers are fantastic for organizing notes and assignments, and with the advent of smartpens students get the best of both worlds (manual note taking and electronic organization). I have a fee of prob

        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          But is our brain that existed before writing actually triggered by writing specifically? Or is that essentially learned behavior from years of schooling that uses writing in learning? The brain predates writing after all.

          If people typed notes from day 1 in school would the act of typing "trigger the learning centre of the brain"?

          Not that that sounds like a good thing, pen and paper is nice and quiet. And having to copy notes by rewriting them rather than ctrl-C, ctrl-V seems a good thing in itself.

          • by radiumsoup (741987) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @10:04AM (#44573181)

            read the parent without the word "additionally" in the third sentence; it's the same idea, and probably shouldn't have been characterized quite the way it ended up being.

            It triggers the learning center of the brain BECAUSE it forces you to utilize short-term memory and summarize ideas in your own way.

          • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @11:19AM (#44573943)

            But is our brain that existed before writing actually triggered by writing specifically? Or is that essentially learned behavior from years of schooling that uses writing in learning? The brain predates writing after all.

            If people typed notes from day 1 in school would the act of typing "trigger the learning centre of the brain"?

            Not that that sounds like a good thing, pen and paper is nice and quiet. And having to copy notes by rewriting them rather than ctrl-C, ctrl-V seems a good thing in itself.

            Probably not for the same reason that the learning centers in the brain are triggered very early in infancy, long before there would be the ability to type anything. Human beings learn how to speak and construct sentences long before formal education. They do so by actually practicing the skill. Human beings learn about spatial relationships long before they have geometry and math. They do so by throwing things, etc. In otherwords, our brains are wired to learn from the five senses and long before we get to formal education or would have the ability to type or write, we have created billions of connections of neuron pathways that reinforce that.

            Your last sentence is important, too. To copy your notes, you have to rewrite them. Everytime you do, you are reinforcing what ever it is, because your brain has to process it. Copy and paste doesn't do that. That is why the baby boomers used to have to write spelling words over and over to learn how to spell them or for punishment you had to write some sentence out 100 times. The repetition of writing over and over reinforced whatever the "lesson" was just like practicing free throws does for a basketball player.

            Because of the way we type, even for good typists that doesn't happen. We see the letters and words and just repeat them, we don't actually read them. As such, the level of recall, for most people, is very low when compared to having to physically copy something by hand. Again, evolution (or ID for those that subscribe to it) has our brains wired to use as many of the senses as possible to process the world around us.Writing is an extension of our speech and language centers, typing is not, at least when done for notetaking.

            • by Reziac (43301) *

              I'd observed this same thing in school. So I took copious notes, even tho I rarely looked at them again. And while the details of the various subjects have long since fallen out of my head, I still recall the gists.

              But another example: I know someone who was repeatedly failing the written driver test. She'd read and reread the manual and she'd still fail the test. So I told her to copy it via longhand, she did so, and lo and behold, she passed the test.

        • by ppanon (16583)

          I think that more than the short term memory use, handwriting requires "symbolization". You look up at the blackboard/screen to read a bit, look down at your paper to make sure you are writing correctly in an aligned form and adjust, rinse and repeat. To go into your short term memory, your brain will "symbolize" the words (i.e. activiate the neural regions associated with that word/concept), and in doing so activates many regions of the brains associated with those symbols through established pathways.

          That

      • by firex726 (1188453)

        I was taught that too, it takes more effort and concentration to write then it does to type; as a result you'll retain more information if written then typed.

        But this was over a decade ago so could be very outdated.

      • by cod3r_ (2031620)
        Wonder if this study would still be the same if they were actually writing, but using a ipad or something. Digital notes. Or if the results would still be similar because the kicker is the fact that these people tend to wander off on to the interwebs
        • Wonder if this study would still be the same if they were actually writing, but using a ipad or something. Digital notes. Or if the results would still be similar because the kicker is the fact that these people tend to wander off on to the interwebs

          It would have to be something with an active digitizer, like the Surface Pro, to allow comfortable handwritten notes. Even if you wear a gloves to fix the palm issue, iPad note taking with a capacitive stylus is pretty clunky and inaccurate.

      • by ildon (413912)

        For many of my easier college classes, I never actually read my notes, but I still took them. The physical act of processing the information and writing it down greatly helped me retain and understand it, even if I didn't go back and read them afterwards.

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        Back when I was in an undergrad psychology course, the general consensus was that the method used triggered different parts of the brain. There is something fundamentally different from moving your finger to a particular location and pressing a key than actually moving your hand around to create a string of letters and then focusing on what you have just created.

        There has since been additional research using functional MRI (FMRI) that shows different parts of the brain are accessed when something as basic as reading is measured when using a book versus a computer/tablet screen. With the computer/tablet screen it lights up the same areas as watching TV which is different from reading from paper sources (both also light up the speech centers, etc, to actually process what is being read).

        The researchers pointed out that it was too early to tell whether this was good

      • by PPH (736903)

        Right.

        I attended a lecture by a psychologist/educator who had done some research linking the mental processes needed to write/draw information as received to those who just listened or read it. Her observation was that there is a significant improvement in comprehension if one goes through the process of recording it manually. Drawing and sketching in particular, in disciplines that lend themselves to graphical methods made significant differences.

    • by Huntr (951770) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @09:04AM (#44572713)
      Exactly. Here's [bit.ly] the paper. It says right there that the students who multi-tasked while taking notes did worse and that some of the participants didn't even adhere to the instructions for their group, i.e., they surfed and screwed around when they weren't supposed to. And then did poorly on a quiz. Gee, who saw that coming?
      • Even if you subtract this group, chances are that at least some of the remaining group are simply trying to compensate for their inadequate note taking habits and poor organizational skills (which would lower anyone's educational outcome), and that at least some of them are failing at it.

        On the other hand, Org Mode [orgmode.org].

      • by David_Hart (1184661) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @10:22AM (#44573333)

        Exactly. Here's [bit.ly] the paper. It says right there that the students who multi-tasked while taking notes did worse and that some of the participants didn't even adhere to the instructions for their group, i.e., they surfed and screwed around when they weren't supposed to. And then did poorly on a quiz. Gee, who saw that coming?

        Why is it that we believe that we can multi-task? In regards to work, humans cannot do true multi-tasking. We are either concentrating on performing one task or are are task switching by concentrating on multiple tasks in much smaller time slices. People are lauded for being multi-taskers, but the end result is that they end up doing more than one thing poorly, as we see in the study results.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_multitasking [wikipedia.org]

      • Hah! Me! I said as much when my uni instituted a mandatory laptop policy in 1997 or 1998.

        I do get your sarcasm, it just irritated me when they did it. Just yet another example of not having any concrete ideas of how to improve education, so let's throw technology/money at it, made worse because they weren't even throwing their own money. They just blanket made everyone buy a laptop they specified, whether or not they actually needed it, whether or not it actually improved the educational experience.

        And

      • ... some of the participants didn't even adhere to the instructions for their group, i.e., they surfed and screwed around when they weren't supposed to. And then did poorly on a quiz. Gee, who saw that coming?

        Sit in the back of a big law school class. You will usually find at least 20% of the girls looking at clothes and 20% of the guys looking at sports. And probably closer to 90% of the class is checking email or facebook during the class.

        • by Zordak (123132)
          I resent that generalization. I rarely sat at the back of the class in law school. One of the few was Secured Transactions my last quarter, but I did not look at sports. I played Snood.
    • IMO, it's gaming in class during lectures given by ancient professors who could bore the paint off the walls on topics of study that are genetically predisposed to cause blindness by its very nature due to sheer boringness... Essentially you bring a device into class that has the potential to make your class less boring, but only in the sense that it keeps you from having to endure sheer boredom to the point where you force yourself to learn the material.

    • I don't think multi-tasking is the right conclusion to make here.

      The human brain can process ~450 words per minute.
      The human mouth speaks at ~60 words per minute.
      If you've ever watched or participated in collegiate debate, that is why most debaters speak so quickly; people can process input faster than others can verbally output.

      I can write 15-25 words per minute.
      I can type 90-105 words per minute.

      If you're talking to me, and I'm taking notes via penmanship, I need to carefully listen and process everything

    • by Digicrat (973598)

      It all depends on the student, and the class. In my undergrad days, I took notes exclusively on the computer (once I got it sophomore year). In some classes, I would be typing full speed and able to get down everything the professor said nearly word for word. Of course, not only did I type 90+ WPM in those days, but my handwriting has always been such that if I take notes by hand I always have trouble reading it later...

      In other classes (mostly basic CS classes), I would type out what they wrote out on t

  • 10 Bucks says (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    10 Bucks says that the manufacturers are so dependent on getting their machines in schools that they simply release locked down and crippled 'student edition' machines.

    • That's a good bet. Plus they won't gauge it right and they'll leave off items that have important dual-usages... like a web browser, chat client, etc...

  • what about (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rossdee (243626) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @08:54AM (#44572631)

    what about students that don't take any notes ?

    • by DogDude (805747) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @08:57AM (#44572655) Homepage
      what about students that don't take any notes ?

      What about flying elephants? What about cheese?

      Obviously, students that don't take notes wasn't part of this study.
      • Re:what about (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 15, 2013 @09:11AM (#44572765)

        What about flying elephants? What about cheese?
        Obviously, students that don't take notes wasn't part of this study.

        They should have been. When I was in college I rarely took notes, because taking notes is also distracting. It may well be that the act of taking notes itself decreases grades.

        As to flying elephants, I doubt any high level Republicans had computers when they were in school. Considering my own Congressman, Rodney Davis, a tea party wacko who believes that global warming ended fifteen years ago and has said so publically, well, he's pretty cheezy but I don't think he even graduated high school. The man is a real moron.

    • by readin (838620)
      I plead Guilty, at least through high school and college. My daily grades were poor, my test scores good and my finals not even a problem. Even today friends and colleagues are impressed by how much I remember from high school and college.

      Then I went to grad school where they told me my grades had to be all A's and B's. I decided to buckle down. I took notes. I studied for tests. I did the daily homework. My grades were all A's and B's, but I don't remember anything.

      In high school and college I was
    • by cod3r_ (2031620)
      more likely to be billionaires than any of the other try hards no doubt.
    • And knowledge was passed from the notes of the instructor to the notes of the student without passing through the brain of either.

      According to my own research (n=1), the best approach is to read the text before the lecture and use the lecture for further understanding.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 15, 2013 @08:55AM (#44572637)

    I was schooled in the late 1970's/early 1980's - way before the advent of computers in the classroom. We were taught that writing things down (even copying from a book) helped the content to 'sink in' to your memory far better than just reading it and I believe this to be true - even now when I take my own notes I remember the content pretty well.

    Cut and paste or typing on a screen knowing you can save it to disc for easy recovery later does nothing for the memory - indeed the whole act is designed to save data to magnetic storage rather than brain cells!

    • by 16Chapel (998683) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @09:06AM (#44572727)
      YMMV - personally I learnt best by listening to the lecturer and digesting what they're saying (and, even better, asking the odd question). Writing things down doesn't help me remember, and never has - I actually find it distracting.
      • by omnichad (1198475)

        That absolutely depends on if your class leads a good discussion or if it's just powerpoint and facts vomit. If it's the latter, write notes. If it's the former, pay close attention and put everything away. If it's both, just alternate.

        • That absolutely depends on if your class leads a good discussion or if it's just powerpoint and facts vomit. If it's the latter, write notes. If it's the former, pay close attention and put everything away. If it's both, just alternate.

          *Or*... different people respond to different processes differently?

      • There are a lot of different learning styles. Personally I have found that I have to listen to the professor and write down the important points. Just the act of distilling what is said down to those key points and recording them helps me to memorize them. Other people I know are more visual and really need things like power point slides in order to really learn it. Where I barely look at stuff like that as it doesn't really help my understanding in most cases. Figuring out what your learning style is can b

      • My experience with people who felt the way you do was because of the way they took notes (that may or may not apply to you). The key was not trying to write down everything the lecturer said, but only the key points and/or a sort of outline of the lecture.
    • by nurb432 (527695)

      Most likely they were typing the information in. Not copy/paste. This would serve the same purpose as writing, if diligent.

      I'm sure however, that at the same time they were screwing around with the computer. No different than writing your notes and at the same time talking to your girlfriend sitting across you, before cellphones and computers.

    • Cut and paste or typing on a screen knowing you can save it to disc for easy recovery later does nothing for the memory

      I think that even electronic note taking can be hardly reduced to "copy and paste". You still have to filter through the input in your head and come up with a wording that you'll be likely to remember on your own. That still exercises the brain.

    • by omnichad (1198475)

      Absolutely. You have muscle memory - the unusual layout of every page of notes can forge a memory too. I took lots of notes in college, never went back and studied them, and I did great.

      The laptop was brought to classes I didn't need to learn in. I had a studio sound recording class where the teacher would arrive just in time for class and spend the first 20 minutes of a 50 minute class trying to get their projector connected to their laptop and set up.

    • by EvilSS (557649)
      I have to do this. I don't know if it's a neurological quirk or what, but if I really want to learn something I "read it, say it, write it, repeat". Just reading it or listening to the lecturer doesn't work for me. Even with a subject I find interesting, I just can't retain it otherwise.
    • by TrekkieGod (627867) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @09:19AM (#44572827) Homepage Journal

      I was schooled in the late 1970's/early 1980's - way before the advent of computers in the classroom. We were taught that writing things down (even copying from a book) helped the content to 'sink in' to your memory far better than just reading it and I believe this to be true - even now when I take my own notes I remember the content pretty well.

      I was taught the same thing but didn't really believe it for most of my time in school. That is, until I got to college and had this professor for diff eq. that had the oddest teaching method ever:

      At the start of the class he would start writing on the blackboard, not saying a word. He just copied his (very organized) notes to the board. Very dense writing, a lot of content. When that board was filled, he would continue on and do the same thing on a second blackboard that was located on a side-wall of the classroom. About half the class time was spent that way. Then when the boards were filled, and we were finished copying everything, he would go back to the beginning and start talking about what he had written.

      It sounds like a colossal waste of class time, but not only did we cover everything the classes in other sessions covered, I never had to study for an exam in that class. While we're copying things down we're reading it and we're paying attention to what we're reading because we need to replicate it. Then when he was actually there explaining things, we already had an idea of what he was going to talk about, we had already thought about it and understood a few things and not others. We weren't distracted by trying to take notes and were actually listening to what he was saying. In fact, when he said something that cleared something up in our minds that wasn't clear from the notes, I'd just jot something quickly in the margin. Which is funny because although that notebook contains the most detailed notes I've ever taken for any class, I've never had to go back to re-read it. Everything just stuck for the exam.

      Lowest amount of work and greatest amount of retention I've ever had for any subject in a classroom. It's been about a decade, and I still remember a good deal about slope fields, bifurcations, characteristic equations, and laplace transforms, among other topics. I think the prof also got a kick out of not explaining to anyone that this was his teaching method the first day of class. We were all sitting there and saw this guy just start writing a ton of stuff up on the board. He waited until he got the boards filled up before introducing himself.

      • by readin (838620)
        That reminds me of my high school Spanish class. We spent the first few minutes of class copying about 10 words and their definitions from the board, then the rest of the class on lecture. I loved that class! Sadly we got a different teacher later.
      • Several of my organic chemistry courses were taught this way. Since there was no practical way of taking notes digitally at the time (which may still be the case?), we were forced to perfectly transcribe the structures into our notes. I still have most of those notes and can still draw near-perfect benzene rings... and am still picky about pens.

      • by Nimey (114278)
        I had a statistics prof who did the pessimal thing and talked while he wrote out massive walls of equations, so one could either pay attention to what he was saying or copy down what he was writing, not easily both.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by fuzzyf (1129635)
        We had a professor who started out writing all kinds of stuff on the board, and after a while he asked if we had written it down.
        Most of us said: "Yes"
        He then asked: "Why?"

        Then he proceeded to tell us that he had written down random stuff that had nothing to do with the topic. The point of this exercise was to make us think about what we wrote down. Write it down in our own language and ask questions if we don't understand something. Because if we didn't understand it during the lecture, we wouldn't u
      • by Nemyst (1383049) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @10:26AM (#44573375) Homepage
        Interestingly, I had a similar experience with my classical mechanics prof, except he did away with the note-taking altogether. Instead, we'd have to read parts of the course textbook before each class, take a small and simple online quizz to check you'd actually read it (the quizz was very loosely timed so you could go back and pick up the answers from the book if you wanted) and then show up in class with nothing in hand. The entire course was dedicated to the prof showing us a variety of questions, usually in the form of simple problems, and asking us to choose one of four possible answers. Once the problem was exposed, we'd get a few minutes to discuss with others and then would have to vote on what we believed was the correct answer. The prof would then explain the right answer, with more details if more people got it wrong.

        It was truly a breath of fresh air compared to any other course structure I have since had. We didn't waste time taking an inordinate amount of notes we'd never read, we didn't have to split our attention between note-taking and what the prof had to say, etc. He also claimed that ever since he started doing that, grades had notably improved in his class.
    • by readin (838620)
      I've never understood how note taking helps the information sink in. For me it interferes with listening and understanding. While listening to the lecture I can either think through what is being said, what implications it has other things I know about, how it fits into other things we're learning, and how important it is - or I can be making split-second decisions about what to write down and scribbling furiously while trying to translate spoken words into written notes.

      A laptop might make it easier by
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      I'm not writing down to remember it later. I'm writing it down to remember it now.

    • by neurovish (315867)

      Obviously anecdotal, but I was similar. I bounced between phases of taking notes religiously and not taking any notes. When I would take notes religiously, I found them useless because I would flip through them before the test or get stuck on a homework problem and see if there were any hints there and think "I already know all this, I have no need of notes". Then I would not take notes for awhile and find that I forgot everything even doing the "conciously listen to the lecturer" since when taking notes I

    • Cut and paste or typing on a screen knowing you can save it to disc for easy recovery later does nothing for the memory - indeed the whole act is designed to save data to magnetic storage rather than brain cells!

      Baloney. Paper is also a storage medium, yet recording notes to it still commits it to memory. Likewise, typing is just as much as a memory committal as writing with a pencil.

      I will say that multitasking aside, pencil / paper is just a lot more flexible. Unless you have a really good tablet or a good shorthand system, you will always be able to do more detailed notes with pencil / paper, as you can add diagrams, use creative indentation / emphasis, etc that are time consuming to set up on a computer.

  • Need to not get the 2 confused.

    • by Golddess (1361003)
      Exactly. For the obligatory car analogy, the idea that using a computer to take notes leads to goofing off, seems about as silly as saying drinking alcohol leads to drunk driving.
  • Recording pen (Score:4, Informative)

    by erik.martino (997000) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @08:56AM (#44572643)
    A computer is not the best device for note taking. Using a LiveScribe pen you can transfer your notes to the computer, including a recording the voice of the lecturer. The pen makes your notes hypertext because it is linked with the audio at the time of note taking. It makes it easy to navigate in the audio recording.
    • by vurian (645456)
      Recording the voice... That would have been a recipe for disaster twenty years ago already when a Sinology teacher of mine at Leyden University in the Netherlands totally flipped out because a (disabled -- could not write) student recorded her lecture. She was violating her copyright!
  • Another hypothesis (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sigg3.net (886486) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @08:58AM (#44572659) Homepage

    Another hypothesis, arguably more difficult to empirically explicate, would be that the brain treats the two tasks differently memory-wise.

    I prefer writing by hand. When the lecture is good, I do my best to get it verbatim. I find that an hour after the lecture has ended, I can cite the professor pretty accurate. However, when I write something on the computer my mind immediately blanks it out.

    Consequently, writing by hand is more efficient _in studying_ because my brain at least remembers some of it. I'd think people are different when it comes to this, but for me the difference is considerable.

    • I have found this to be true with problem solving too. There are some complex programming concepts that are easier for me to work out on paper in cut down pseudo-code and then implement, rather then write out on the computer in comments and implement around. I think writing does use some other part of the brain.
      • by Sigg3.net (886486)

        Perhaps it is connected with specific hand-work from the days of making stone tools..

      • I have found this to be true with problem solving too. There are some complex programming concepts that are easier for me to work out on paper in cut down pseudo-code and then implement, rather then write out on the computer in comments and implement around. I think writing does use some other part of the brain.

        I do a lot of thinking on paper, too. Although I never took straight notes in class (mainly because I didn't need to study), I would listen to the lectures, and when a concept intrigued me, I would start writing out thoughts about the lecture topic. I rarely looked back at those notes when finals came around, but the act of taking in aural information, processing it, iterating on it, and drawing out conclusions on paper, did a lot more than just copying the professor's words verbatim ever could.

        I used to do

  • by barlevg (2111272) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @08:58AM (#44572663)

    1. People who take hand-written notes often later transcribe them digitally, thus going over the notes one more time than people who just record them digitally in the first place.

    2. Studies have that reading harder-to-read fonts assist in recall/retention. [bbc.co.uk] Hand-written notes certainly fall in the category of harder-to-read.

  • If you would have given me a laptop in school while sitting in some "boring" class I would have been lucky getting a D-

  • by snookerdoodle (123851) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @09:00AM (#44572691)

    A memory trick I once learned (for remember names or phone numbers, for example) is to write the item with your finger on a roughish surface like your pants 3 times. This often works for me.

    There have been studies (like this one [wsj.com]) that seem to show that writing something down by hand reinforces learning. I'm surprised the author didn't think this might be relevant.

    • A memory trick I once learned (for remember names or phone numbers, for example) is to write the item with your finger on a roughish surface like your pants 3 times.

      How do you get your finger to leave a mark? And what if you're not wearing those pants when you need to remember it?

    • by Xiaran (836924)
      My missus does the same thing and it works for her. I tried it after being impressed by it and I coudln't see any improvement for me... memory is a funny thing. My missus remembers phone numbers by remembering the pattern of pushing the buttons on a phone... she will even mime typing the number to recall it. That doesn;t work for me at all... I remember phone numbers by breaking them into sub groups and remembering those.
      • memory is a funny thing

        I agree. My wife remembers all kinds of things (including phone numbers) with no effort at all. Me? I'd forget the sub groups, too. I was so grateful to learn the "writing with my finger" trick. Then again, I remember places and directions even years later quite naturally.

      • by neurovish (315867)

        Just wanted to mention that I hate it when people don't follow the proper phone number cadence when reciting a number...I can't even remember past 4 numbers long enough to punch the digits into my phone when that happens.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @09:02AM (#44572711) Journal

    Taking notes in general is just distracting. Better to listen and think, and use the book when you get home.

  • by Diss Champ (934796) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @09:04AM (#44572715)

    I find that taking very sparse notes, or none, depending on the subject, I will get more out of a lecture. As long as there is a good textbook or other reference I can use it to clarify confusions later. I find generally that when writing or typing, the info isn't being stored in my brain as well.

    Of course, I often also find it helpful to have a book on an unrelated subject and to split my attention back and forth to it and the lecture to control my short attention span, so I'm weird.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 15, 2013 @09:06AM (#44572731)

    My GPA went up one full letter grade when I stopped taking notes in class - period. It was far more instructive to actually pay attention to what was being said and to think about it while it was being discussed, than to simply focus all of my cerebral effort on transcribing what was being written on the board.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @09:10AM (#44572757) Homepage

    Multi-tasking is a plausible explanation, but I can posit another one quite easily.

    If instead of focusing on writing the content you're trying to do any form of formatting, layout, entering equations, trying to do diagrams -- you are already multi-tasking and part of your attention is on the device instead of what you're listening to.

    I've tried taking notes on a laptop, and I found it distracting and more trouble than it's worth. If you can see the Prof is drawing a quadrant or a graph, you can do that by hand far faster on a sheet of paper.

    Maybe someone can do it, but for me, I find that good old fashioned paper is still the most effective way for me to take notes and commit stuff to paper and I can annotate it later.

    I just don't think the input techniques we have available to us are anywhere near as effective as pen and paper.

    My guess? Give someone a laptop which has no internet connectivity while they're taking notes, and with only the application open they're directly using -- and they'll still do worse.

  • what about smaller classes vs big lectures?

  • theory based classes vs more hands on ones they need to look into that as well. I say lot's of people in theory classes it's based more on how is good at test cramming

  • No one I went to undergrad with used a laptop. Granted, my undergrad was chemistry and its hard as hell when 3/4 of the notes are diagrams of complex reactions.

    I take that back. There was one girl who had a convertible laptop with a stylus.

  • If you have no calculator, you need to master mental arithmetic.  If you have a calculator, you just keep a-pressing those buttons, and don't even notice when something goes amiss (like when you (think you) pressed 5 * 7 6 3 = and got 4578).
    If you rely on a wordprocessor to type your work rather than a typesetting language, you can just tap away until things look about right, whereas with non wysiwyg methods you need to have a greater understanding of how the document is set out.
    If you can recall your notes from your laptop via Spotlight or from some database, you don't need to learn to organise your notes like you do with paper.

    These and many more examples are the problem.  Pen and paper rewards a disciplined mind in a way that mindlessly tapping away on a laptop doesn't.  (When writing my PhD thesis, I first handwrote pretty much everything, then typed it up in LaTeX.  When helping someone set out precise diagrams in Microsoft Word, I ended up having to print to postscript, preview in gv (this was circa 2000) and then move things around in Word so that they looked wrong in Word but right on paper.)

    Laptops reward non-intelligent laziness in a bad way, and people who use computers should be encouraged more to learn to do things in a harder and more manual way to learn the self-discipline, and the need for sufficient practice to maintain this discipline, before fully relying on a computer to make life easier.

    There is a well known saying in mathematics: once you've learned to do things the hard way, people don't care if you're sloppy.  Learn things the hard way first.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The effect was observed not only on the person using the laptop to take notes, but also on the surrounding students who weren't, presumably because the laptop was a significant distraction.

  • To me the greatest advantage of digital notes over pen and paper is that I can extend a topic when I acquire additional information on it (whereas on paper there's usually no physical space to do that), reorganize them by merging related notes into a single unit and also search through them.

    Also, I type much faster than I write and I can shape and transform my notes very easily with Org-mode [orgmode.org].

    But actually I'd prefer if there was some collaborative note-taking going on instead of the huge duplication of work

  • by Ambassador Kosh (18352) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @09:33AM (#44572949)

    It looks like the entire thing was just wrote memorization which is darn close to completely worthless. People took notes and then did a multiple choice exam to repeat back the information in the notes.

    Honestly, with or without a computer I find it very hard to pay attention or care in any memorization based class. The experience is pointless since memorizing the information gives you nothing on how to really use it, how to evaluate if you are within bounds for something, out of bounds, at an unstable point etc.

    That is why I like my engineering classes. They give us real problems on exams and expect us to solve them in a more realistic way at least. The exams are normally open book, notes, pretty darn advanced calculators etc and the problems are hard as hell. If you don't understand how to approach the problems, how to figure out how to do them you have no chance of solving them in time. You can't learn from the book as you go. However, during the exams you need to figure out what information you need that is not provided in the problem, look at up in the books in charts, tables, equations etc.

    As a result your hand is not held at every step. You are not told you will need certain values from the steam tables, others from phase diagrams, other relationships or equilibriums etc. You are expected to figure that out just like you do in the real world.

    During our classes laptops are great for notes. Most of our lectures are on practical problem solving and being able to look things up, use MATLAB or Excel to work on the problems etc is a huge gain and you have those later to refer to. One of the things our professors emphasize is to LOOK IT UP. If you do something from memorization and it is wrong you can get people killed in engineering. It takes almost no effort and time to look something up so look it up every single time.

    The important things to learn in class are how to setup the problems, why you set them up that way, what boundaries you need to watch for, what does the answer mean etc. The actual mechanical cranking of solving the problem is something that you pretty much just hand to a computer now. Being able to solve a system of 40+ ODEs by hand is not a useful skill. You will screw that up and you will waste a lot of time getting stuck in the details instead of learning how understand the system and how stable it is.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      It looks like the entire thing was just wrote memorization

      Pssst ... it's rote [wikipedia.org] not wrote. Typical engineer.

  • They compared people taking notes (with a pencil) to people taking notes WHILE surfing the web, as instructed.

    To see how taking notes on a laptop compares to taking notes with a pencil as per TFS, they should have compared either:

    only taking notes (with a pencil) vs. only taking notes (with a laptop)
    and / or
    taking notes (with a pencil) while surfing the web vs. taking notes (with a laptop) while surfing the web

    What they actually compared was "taking notes" vs. "surfing the web and taking notes".
    They just as

  • I don't see any information on how the students were taking notes on their machines. Just "taking notes on laptops" may mean anything.

    I wouldn't be able to take any notes in Microsoft Word or LibreOffice. But in Org-mode I actually take notes more efficiently than I can do than on paper.

  • I got a 3.3 GPA in my undergrad while using paper notes and a 4.0 in grad school while using a computer. Not exactly a balanced comparison but...

    While going through grad school I found that I did best if I played a game that required little mental activity to keep my mind from wandering away from the lecture (Eve Online mining or mission running was excellent). Then for notes I did better if I didn't take a note for everything but instead listened to everything the lecturer said and then summarized duri
  • surfing the net or checking email [...] reduces concentration

    Surfing the net or checking email defies concentration.

  • One of the best things I did as a college freshman was to take an optional study skills workshop offered by the university.

    I was taught that the optimal way to do things ( yes, I realize the optimal way isn't always possible ) was to take thorough notes from the text book before the lecture, then use the lecture to listen to the professor without your attention being distracted less with the need to write things down. This frees you up to think about the material while s/he is speaking, ask yourself questi

  • THAN! Not THEN! Than is a comparison, X is lower than Y. Then means subsequent, X happened then Y happened. I usually ignore this on twitter and forums, but when a news item gets it wrong then I get annoyed.

    • Prime example of someone who was using a computer take notes when they were supposed to learning about THAN and THEN. Good catch.
  • In my CNC class I sit up front and photograph the whiteboard using my phone.

    Other students began doing it too and it's worked well for them.

    I'm also politely vocal about finding hand-written "anything" an abomination and point out the instructor could simply do one set of "notes" in PowerPoint for class use and student download. He has started doing that amid much rejoicing. Handwriting is righly obsolete elsewhere and the sooner it's replaced by printed text the better. Text offers faster visual recognitio

  • I want to see a study that compares students that take all notes by hand and students that are given the notes before the lecture and then make supplemental notes. I always found note taking distracting from thinking about the lecture but at the same time I always wanted to have a reference so that I know what a professor deems important. From personal experience, I believe being given a set of notes / detailed PowerPoint slides with the option of adding to them is more conducive to retention and understand
  • by neminem (561346)

    They wasted money on that? And got it printed in a journal? *Obviously* people with any device that just *yells* out, "the internet is right here! And all your favorite time-wasting games!", are not going to pay as much attention to lectures, especially lectures that aren't very interesting. I say as someone who totally intended to take notes in all sorts of classes that I ended up playing a lot of Nethack in instead.

    Headline should just read: "Goofing off in lecture and not paying as much attention lowers

  • by dragon-file (2241656) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @11:18AM (#44573921)
    ...to record the audio from the lesson while you play farmville or whatever hell kids play these days. Problem solved.
    • by PPH (736903)

      Old story, pre laptop:

      One professor noted an increase in students who brought tape recorders to his lectures to take notes. Not just this, but some would have a classmate bring their recorder to class to record the lectures, not even bothering to show up. So he began a practice of covering certain important material by writing everything, including responses to students questions on the blackboard without saying a word.

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