Story and slideshow by BAILEY CALDWELL
There are two types of college students. One group has a notebook and a pen or pencil at the ready. Another group totes laptops, tablets or phones to their courses. Students know that in order to pass their classes, they need to take notes.
Go into any classroom, lecture room/hall or anywhere students gather to learn and you will see both of these types of students.
Students don’t always use laptops the same way. Some students use their computer for note taking only, while other students use them for note taking and for surfing the web, online shopping, playing games and other activities.
In a number of experiments done by Princeton University and the University of California, students were given either a pen and paper or a laptop to take notes during a lecture.
After the lecture, the students were given a test on the lecture. Those who used laptops did worse than those who hand wrote notes.
While interviewing students about their personal note taking habits, two students were found to have vastly different styles from one another.
Kourtney England, 22, a senior at Utah State University majoring in communications, has tried taking notes with a laptop but ultimately decided on handwritten notes. She was unable to retain the amount of information she normally did when handwriting notes.
“I tried to type notes in a general education class and it did not work out for me. Once I switched back to handwritten notes, I started scoring higher on quizzes and tests,” England said.
England had only switched from handwritten notes to typing notes for a couple of weeks and her scores decreased in her classes.
Laptops can be used for several different things, not just note taking. This can be a distraction for students who use them for note taking.
Ryan Bailey, 25, a senior at Southern Utah University majoring in communications, uses a laptop to take notes. “I have used both handwritten notes and computer notes. I memorize better with computer notes, but pay more attention and learn more with handwritten notes,” Bailey said.
For him the hardest part of taking notes is paying attention. “I struggle at staying in lectures and being engaged,” Bailey said. He keeps a piece of paper to doodle on in class to help him from playing on his laptop.
A study done in Norway at the University of Stavanger in 2011 shows “writing by hand strengthens the learning process. When typing on a keyboard, this process may be impaired.”
According to researchers, when a person takes handwritten notes, their brain receives feedback from the motor actions from the hand and a feeling from the pencil/pen. Those are far different than those from touching a keyboard.
“When writing by hand, the movements involved leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps us recognize letters,” researchers discovered.
Handwritten notes are far better for studying than typing them on a computer and based on an informal poll posted on Facebook and Instagram, most college students would agree with this.
The informal poll of 173 college students showed that 77 percent of students write their notes by hand. Does this mean that students are listening to what the research is showing?
Perhaps, but it also might be because their professor doesn’t give them the option.
Dr. Natasha Seegert teaches in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah. She has taught Principles of Visual Communication for three and a half years. She does not allow any electronic devices during her lectures.
Seegert made this decision after reading an article by Clay Shirky, a professor of media studies and the internet. Shirky took a long time to make the decision to ban the internet and electronic devices in his classes.
In the article, Shirky said he noticed over the years that it was as if “someone has let fresh air into the room. The conversation brightens, and more recently, there is a relief from many of the students.”
Shirky decided to ban electronic devices because multitasking decreases a person’s performance and can have lasting effects on the memory.
Seegert put a lot of thought into banning electronic devices in her own classes after hearing stories from her husband, who also teaches at the U, about how he banned devices and reading articles by scholars such as Clay Shirky.
She said her husband tells his students that when they walk into his class they are walking into what he calls the “magic circle.” Seegert said her husband explains that when playing a board game with others each person understands that there are rules, and if you don’t follow those rules you are out of the game.
When entering the classroom, you are agreeing to be in that space together. “You agree to certain rules that apply there and are focused on the same topic or same concept,” Seegert said.
Seegert’s classroom is her “magic circle” and she does not allow any sort of electronic device during her teaching time. This includes laptops, phones, watches and anything that requires charging.
She advises students “to make sure you are taking notes with not just your head processing things but your whole body doing it as well. So there is not as much as a disconnect between your body and your brain,” she said.
Note taking takes a lot of concentration and by using a laptop, you are cheating your brain out of cognitive learning.
“Your body will process and memorize things that you did not realize just by writing those words,” Seegert said.