The evolution of note taking in the digital classroom

Pen and paper live on in higher education, as note taking has remained very much analog.

Technology rules the classroom and lecture hall, as evidenced by campus research showing students’ propensity for web-connected devices of every kind.

note-taking-digital-classroomLaptops are ubiquitous in lecture halls across campuses large and small, but a recent study and infographic showed that college students’ note taking preferences still include the traditional pen and paper.

Thirty-eight percent of respondents to a Lifehacker poll said they prefer handwritten notes, while 21 percent sided with typed notes.

The most popular note-taking option, however, was a hybrid approach. Four in 10 poll respondents said they preferred a combination of written and typed notes.

Typing notes, it turns out, gives students the best shot at keeping up with the pace of a professor’s lecture. The average professor says 2-3 words per second — an alarming rate if a student is hoping to jot down every last utterance.

Students can write .3-.4 word per second with a pen and paper, whereas they can pump out 1.5 words per second when typing on a laptop, according to a University of Washington study that examined note taking practices in higher education.

There is a valid argument to be made for the pen-and-paper approach to note taking: writing on paper “activates regions of the brain that involve thinking, language, and working memory” thanks to forming and connecting letters.

This sort of brain activation doesn’t happen when notes are typed, according to the university researchers.

Wray Herbert, author of, “On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hardwired Habits,” pointed out that those most committed to computer-based note taking can do more harm than good for even the most conscientious students.

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