Last Tuesday’s New York Times had an article on the downside of taking notes on a laptop. The piece, Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting, was written by University of Michigan Professor Susan Dynarski who bans electronic devices in her classroom. Dynarski cites research from Princeton, UCLA and a few other schools where students who were allowed to take notes electronically performed worse than students who took notes with a pen and paper.
A follow-up post on The Verge yesterday gave a great summary of the article. I especially liked the conclusion:
Writing things by hand is becoming less common as gadgets and speech recognition software continue to replace pen and paper, but it’s long proven that handwriting improves motor skills, memory, and creativity. So even though note taking with a laptop might be faster, you might want to think about how much information you’re retaining.
My final thoughts on this center around the idea that we need to take away the opportunity for the individual to make the choice on which method works best. As students get to the later stages of high school and move on to college, shouldn’t they have the chance to choose the tool that works best for them? If people become aware that their productivity drops when they take notes on a device, will they still choose to work in the same manner? Isn’t the process of figuring out what works and what doesn’t a critical part of the learning process?
I can’t help thinking about the Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment developed by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). This framework includes “students’ self-evaluation and reflection on process and product integrated into the learning process and contributing to students’ continued growth.”
In short, we need to be careful that banning is not our default reaction. We will teach students a great deal if we help them be more introspective about what works best for them.