Note Taking In Class – What Do You Use?

As a person that still takes courses in college, I often wonder how things have changed over my life. Though the computer companies would have us believe, in their advertising, other marketing, and press releases, that most students are using notebooks in class, I have personally found it is not so.

In a recent semester, I was in two classes held in lecture halls, with roughly 60 students in each class. In both classes there were always a few, but five or less, that used a laptop to take notes. These were not math or science classes, so it had nothing to do with the inability to quickly type mathematical symbols on the screen.

I believe it has a bit to do with the way we learn, and it was not simply my being one of the over-30 crowd in the room. Of the people I became friendly with, most claimed that lugging a notebook was a pain (these were women, by the way) and others claimed it was always a problem situating oneself to be close to an AC outlet. Timing the battery life with their notebook was something at which they were not adept, and the disturbance of trying to continue on pad and paper was too much trouble.

Several were like me, and believed that there is something organic about the experience of taking notes, writing the notes on paper when later, in the testing phase of the class, they will need to repeat the writing of the answers on paper. The note taking by hand tends to harmonize both mind and muscle memory.

Apparently we are not alone, as a story in slashdot tells a similar tale -

“While waiting to see if the iPad is a game-changer, this CS student continues to take class notes with pen and paper while her fellow students embrace netbooks and notebooks. Why? In addition to finding the act of writing helps cement the lecture material in her mind, there’s also the problem of keeping up with the professor: ‘[While taking notes on a laptop] every five minutes I found myself cursing at not being able to copy the diagram on the board.’ So, when it comes to education or business, do you take notes on a notepad/netbook, or stick with good old-fashioned handwriting? Got any tips for making the transition, or arguments for staying the course?”

the above has a quick two paragraphs, excerpted from the link, where it gets summed up

Call me old fashioned, but I like to take notes with a pen and paper. As I’ve discussed previously, the act of writing helps cement the lecture material in my mind better than passive listening does, and studies have shown that it’s not just me [pdf]. Still, I know that my old-fashioned ways are quickly going out of style.

I don’t know if typing notes aids memory as well as taking notes on paper does, but I do know that it does not work for me. I decided at the beginning of last year that it would be nice to bring my laptop to class so that my notes would be neatly organized (and actually legible for once), and changed my mind after only one or two classes. I could never type fast enough to keep up with the professor, and every five minutes I found myself cursing at not being able to copy the diagram on the board. It was a relief to have my Five Stars and Pentel R.S.V.P.s back at the end of that little experiment. Considering my negative experience, I wonder how my classmates can keep up. I know that not everyone learns the same way I do; maybe my peers don’t need notes as copious as mine in order to do well.

I don’t necessarily believe that the amount of note taking has much to do with it, as I rarely get very verbose on the note pad. I try to use 3 – 4 word phrases, and single concept words.

I’m not sure that anyone typing in class could do any better with copious note taking. In my experience, matching grades would indicate my methods work better.

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