Laptops and Notetaking

Conforming to the System of School?

By George on Apr 23, 2016 

This post from NPR titled, “Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away”, was shared multiple times on social media, and I shared it was well.

Reading this piece Via @NPR – Attention Students: Put Your Laptops Away

— George Couros (@gcouros) April 17, 2016

I found it to be an interesting piece, but the beginning really stuck out to me.  I have bolded some of the parts below that really drew my attention.

As laptops become smaller and more ubiquitous, and with the advent of tablets, the idea of taking notes by hand just seems old-fashioned to many students today. Typing your notes is faster — which comes in handy when there’s a lot of information to take down. But it turns out there are still advantages to doing things the old-fashioned way.

For one thing, research shows that laptops and tablets have a tendency to be distracting — it’s so easy to click over to Facebook in that dull lecture. And a study has shown that the fact that you have to be slower when you take notes by hand is what makes it more useful in the long run.

In the study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles sought to test how note-taking by hand or by computer affects learning.

“When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can,” Mueller tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

First of all, I do not think lectures are bad, but I do think “dull lectures” are.  Interesting thing is that we expect that students pay attention to a “dull lecture” while I watch so many people in organizations choose Facebook or email over “dull staff meetings”.  There should be accountability to not only the learner, but the educator in this situation.  Encouraging things like back-channels. or providing the information before and encouraging learners to create something from it, is actually a much better way to have students “retain” information than listening to a “dull lecture”.  It is not that content isn’t important, but what you create and connect from this content is where the powerful and deep learning happens.

The second part that stuck out to me is when the article says “people”, not “some people”.  The reality is that not all people are the same, but in this article they are using technology (both the pen/pencils and the computer, not only the computer) to standardize.  Not all people work this way. In fact, whether you give me a pencil or a laptop, I am never furiously writing notes down. Ever.  I will write only what resonates with me, but with a computer, I might google quotes or applicable articles that I will save for reading later.  I might not be “listening” as much,  but I could actually be learning more, just not necessarily from the person lecturing at that exact moment.  Is the focus on what I am learning from the person standing in front of me, or what I am learning on the topic in general. These aren’t always the same thing.

Many educators on social media reiterated the findings and shared how they made all students use pencils instead of laptops.  The problem with this approach is that we assume one way works for all.  What we need to realize is that some students benefit from having a laptop, and some from using a pencil.  Choices are beneficial.  Some students will need more guidance than others, but we also need to realize that we should never force students to use what works for us over what works for them.

As a student in K-12, I was single-handedly responsible for supporting the paper reinforcement business in the 80’s.  Many of my notes would eventually be torn out of my book, but even if they stayed in my binder, they were never beneficial to me.  This is not to say that this process wasn’t beneficial to others, just not for me.  But was the problem here that I didn’t conform to the system, or that the system didn’t conform to me?

Technology should personalize, not standardize.  We need to understand that we live in a time where there are more ways to reach more kids.  To lump all kids together and have them do the exact same thing is doing an incredible disservice to the learners of today.


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