Thursday, July 23, 2015

Take lecture notes on a laptop computer or use old fashioned longhand?

A paper published last year in Psychological Science suggests that taking notes in longhand is the better choice.

The authors, from Princeton University and UCLA, performed three studies on college students. They found that even if multitasking and distractions were eliminated, “students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.”

Previous research has shown that note taking enhances learning by both providing external storage of information for later review and “encoding,” that is, processing information and reframing it in one’s own words.

Although significantly more notes were taken by laptop users, they tended to be more like transcriptionists instead of thinking about and summarizing what they heard.

When tested on standardized lecture material, both groups did equally well on factual questions, but those who used longhand for note taking fared significantly better on questions dealing with concepts.

Even when students using laptops were instructed not to transcribe lectures verbatim, they were unable to do so.

Subjects were tested with and without studying their notes. Without studying before a test, scores did not differ between the two groups, but when studying was permitted, those who took longhand notes again performed better.

From the discussion section of the paper: “Although more notes are beneficial, at least to a point, if the notes are taken indiscriminately or by mindlessly transcribing content, as is more likely the case on a laptop than when notes are taken longhand, the benefit disappears.” [That run-on sentence was probably typed on a laptop.]

The authors concluded that laptops in classrooms may be doing more harm than good.

This dovetails nicely with my previous post on live-tweeting of conferences and lectures. People who live tweet claim the tweets can serve as notes. I doubt that. The live tweeters are deluding themselves. They are simply doing “play by play” of a session and are not likely to retain the information.

From a Guardian essay on this topic: A linguistic professor "conducted a survey of reading preferences among over 300 university students across the US, Japan, Slovakia and Germany. When given a choice between media ranging from printouts to smartphones, laptops, e-readers and desktops, 92% of respondents replied that it was hard copy that best allowed them to concentrate."

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, smart pens can record what is written in longhand and convert it to digital text albeit with some difficulties and inaccuracies. Using a stylus on a tablet computer can also be done, but not as quickly as writing with a dumb pen on paper.

Like reading a real book instead of a digital book, taking notes may be another area in which the gadgets lose.


Anonymous said...

This says *college students* Skep, not *doctors*. I've seen some doctors' handwriting. I've seen first graders that can write better and yes I'm not referring to PRN, BID, or P, Na, test orders.

I'm not asking for calligraphy. Please.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

I'm not sure anyone knows how to write in longhand nowadays. If you are taking notes and can't read your own writing, maybe you shouldn't be in this business.

Anonymous said...

This is drmuchogusto. I am part of the post pre-IPAD era. What I find annoying is that medstudents feel the need to place their mini ipad in their whitecoat along with all the pocket books. Then when you ask them a question, they need to go look it up. So what I do is ask the same question a week later, you will be surprised, its like this note taking and looking up information on these stupid Ipads has fried the brain, no one remembers anything. Then when I have a meeting regarding research and a med student is on the project they constantly type on the ipad, why can't we just listen attentively and recall. My group of medstudents did have iphones and attendings would tell us to look up topics. How many tech toys do people need, iphone, ipad, pocket books. Now I sometimes just tell students to listen, you guys are smart people, there is no need to write it out or type on an ipad. You can look up a lot of information. Why not just listen and questions old fashioned style. Now I just get people clicking away and not even discussing. Discussion has died too!

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Mucho, well said. I agree.

A. Banterings said...

Why not write longhand on a tablet device that has a note-taking program? That is like lining a plastic bag with a paper bag (seen it done) at the grocery store.... LOL

I was surprised that my nephew (now 10) was not taught cursive handwriting in school. Apparently they learn block printing and move on to keyboards. Thank God Bill Clinton signed the law allowing digital signatures.

Personally, I prefer pad and paper. I am totally in to technology, but I prefer to read a printed copy of anything that I have to read in-dept (like a 200 page research paper). I am big about making notes in the margin and highlighting.

My preferred note taking style involves many illustrations, graphs, diagrams, maps, and even pictures. My notebooks use to look more like comic books with all my illustrations.

The nuns use to accuse me on a daily basis of "doodling;" apparently a mortal sin in catholic school, which by the way is where I learned cursive handwriting a full year ahead of my public school counterparts.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

I agree, especially with your comment about reading something in depth. The only time I read books on a Kindle is when I'm traveling. Instead of lugging several books made of paper, I take a few in my electronic device which I would be carrying anyway.

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