At the beginning of nearly any class, students always ask the same questions. “Is attendance graded? Is the final cumulative? Can we use laptops to take notes?”
With fewer and fewer people taking notes by hand or doing any kind of handwritten work in the real world on a daily basis, should students still take handwritten notes in class? With the elimination of cursive from the Common Core Curriculum Standards in 2014, and every student now being required to take a typing class, the US has made a commitment to the transition to digital notes. The great debate is whether typed notes are really in the students’ best interest.
Typing is faster than handwritten notes, that’s for sure, but there is less freedom with the typed page. The Guardian argues that pen and paper allows for more graphic freedom than the computer screen. Paper can be formed into anything you need such as instantly created pictures, tables, or diagrams, whereas the computer requires more time and work to create these items.
If that’s the only thing that’s keeping paper around then why not switch to laptops? Notes are faster that way, and students can’t ‘lose’ their homework quite so easily if it’s saved to their network folder. There are no pencils to be sharpened, and no one ever runs out of paper on a laptop computer. Searching back through notes is easier too. Flipping through a semester’s worth of notes for one bit of information can take time, but with computers it can be found easily and quickly. Is that really what’s best though?
Neuroscientists don’t think so. Writing and drawing letters by hand improves recognition and memory. Much like practicing a play over and over again improves muscle memory for game-time, writing out notes can improve recall according to Princeton and UCLA researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer. Students using pen and paper reworded and analyzed their notes more than students using laptops. This allowed pen and paper students to gain a better understanding of concepts as well as recall facts better.
Students using laptops took more notes than students writing long-hand according to Mueller and Oppenheimer. However, that did not transcribe into better scores on assessments of factual or conceptual understanding of the material. Pen and paper students that studied for a mock exam did better than all other groups of students in this study of college students including those who took verbatim typed notes and studied for the mock exam.
Proponents of handwritten notes say that cursive can improve spelling whereas computers fix spelling errors before the user even knows they made an error allowing for perpetual spelling mistakes. Also, pen and paper allows for more emotion in writing compared to computers. Don’t forget one last important note, computers are distracting. Even students that might otherwise pay attention might be led astray by a distracting laptop screen.
Technology can be a major asset, but also a major crutch. So, when students ask if they can use laptops in class, will you allow them to? Or will you believe that The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard? Read the article by Mueller and Oppenheimer for more information: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/25/6/1159.full.pdf+html.