Mueller and Oppenheimer’s (2014) “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard” as well as Carter, Greenberg and Walker’s (2016) “Effect of Computer Usage on Academic Performance.” claim that students in lecture-style courses perform worse on assessments when allowed to use devices for note taking.
However, none of these studies question the teaching methods used in the classes themselves or whether teachers are recognizing the power of digital devices for students to create, share, connect and discover information.
Digital Organization and Content Curation
Much like students understand the concept of binders, notebooks and notes in the physical world, they need a similar system in the digital one. Whether working with dividers and subjects in a tool like Notability or sections and pages in OneNote, students need to build vocabulary to support how they house their learning.
Tagging this way not only helps students stay organized, but it could also help them to examine trends across courses or even semesters.
As a doctoral student, I use OneNote. First, I create a new digital notebook each year. Inside that, I add sections for each term as well as my different courses. Finally, my notes get organized into individual pages within the sections. When I can recall the precise location where I put a particular set of notes, I navigate directly to that page. However, on the numerous occasions when an author, vocabulary term or concept seems familiar but I cannot recall the precise moment when I took notes, then the search function becomes critical.
With most tools (Notability, OneNote, Evernote, etc.), students can not only capture typed and handwritten notes but also incorporate photos, audio and even video. These versatile capabilities allow students to customize their note taking process to meet their learning needs. Consider these possibilities:
- Students may take notes on paper, add photos of those papers into a digital notebook, synthesize their thinking with audio or written notes, and then tag their digital notes for later retrieval.
- Students might use audio syncing — a feature that records audio and then digitally syncs it with whatever the student writes or types — to capture the context of the class discussion or lecture. When reviewing their notes, students could click or tap on their notes and then jump directly to that point in the audio recording.
- Teachers might provide students with their presentation slides or other note taking guides as PDF files. Now, students can focus on taking notes — using any modality — for synthesis, elaboration, reflection or analysis rather than in an attempt to capture content verbatim.
In 1949, neuropsychologist Donald Hebb famously wrote, “Neurons that fire together wire together.”
One of the powerful components of digital note taking is that the pages never end, and a full page isn’t an artificial barrier to limit thinking. Students can work on an infinitely expanding canvas to include as much information as they need. For example, concept mapping tools such as Coggle or Padlet allow students to create networks of ideas using text, links, images and even video without ever running out of room. (my note to John Eller – can we renew our 201-2013 discussion about pen vs computer concept mapping?)
Visible Thinking Routines
Visible Thinking routines, sets of questions designed by researchers at Harvard’s Project Zero, encourage thinking and support student inquiry.
more on note taking in this IMS blog