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NPR: The cognitive advantages of taking notes on paper

28 May

This story on NPR suggests you will remember material better if you take notes on paper:

‘Oppenheimer and Mueller wondered if there was something about paper and the act of writing that explained this phenomenon, so they conducted an experiment.

The paper industry struggled in the past decade, but some sectors have fared better than others.
They asked about 50 students to attend a lecture. Half took notes on laptops and half with pen and paper. Both groups were then given a comprehension test.

It wasn’t even close. The students who used paper scored significantly higher than those who used laptops.

Mueller attributes this unexpected finding — published in the journal, Psychological Science — to the fact that the “analog” note takers were forced to synthesize rather than merely transcribe. It’s a phenomenon known as “desirable difficulty.”‘

Here is the abstract from the original paper:

“Taking notes on laptops rather than in longhand is increasingly common. Many researchers have suggested that laptop note taking is less effective than longhand note taking for learning. Prior studies have primarily focused on students’ capacity for multitasking and distraction when using laptops. The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”


More on note taking

10 Apr

I have posted on this study in the past, but Vox has a nice gloss of the paper:

“But the crazy thing is that the many college students being distracted by their laptops are simultaneously paying tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of doing so.

Science and common sense are both pretty clear here. If you want to learn something from a class or lecture — or, from that matter, a meeting, conference, or any other situation where you’re basically sitting and listening — you’re best off taking notes with pen and paper.”

note taking

Students don’t know how to study

14 Dec

A post in The Conversation tells us:

“Universities and governments around the world rely on student evaluations to assess university teachers and degrees. Likewise, potential students check online ratings when deciding where to study. These evaluations are based on the logic that students must know best what helps them learn. So it’s surprising to discover that students may be the worst people to ask about the quality of education.”

The article also highlights the problem with student evaluations of instructors:

“Many educators worry that students are more positive about teachers who give better marks regardless of what the students learn, and are more negative about teachers who make students work hard in order to learn. If this is true, it means the simplest way for a teacher to get a good evaluation is to make it easy for students to get good marks.

As it happens, students who rated their current teacher most highly got better marks in their current course but did much worse in later courses. This confirms the fears of educators: students’ evaluations are linked with current grades, but also with students’ failure to learn things they need for the future. So, a student who is happy with their grade and teacher should worry — they may not have learnt that much.”


Longhand better than laptop for note taking

30 Apr

A paper in Psychological Science reports:

“laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”

The paper concludes:

“For that reason,  laptop use in classrooms should be viewed with a healthy dose of caution; despite their growing popularity, laptops may be doing more harm in classrooms than good.”

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The Fisher Space Pen

3 Aug

I have written about how, just the act of, note taking helps improve memory, even if you never review your notes. Thus, I always try to carry a couple of pens with me. One of the pens I carry is the Fisher Space Pen.

space pen

The FSP was invented by Paul C. Fisher and was actually used by Apollo astronauts. I can testify that the pens can be used without problem while flying and will not leak. The biggest advantage for me, however, is that fact that the pen can travel though the laundry without damage or loss of function.

space pen2

The pen once starred on Seinfeld:

Ben Casnocha on note taking

27 Jul

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how note taking improves your memory.

Along a similar line, Ben Casnocha has an excellent post titled “Experts take notes.” It contains a number of interesting observations and useful links. He tells a story about a Silicon Valley meeting:

“According to my friend who relayed this story, there were two older folks in the front row who stood out: John Doerr and Ron Conway. They are both legendary investors in Silicon Valley.

They stood out not just because their gray hair shimmered in the sea of youth around them, but because they were the only people in the audience taking notes.”

Read the whole piece and pick up pen and notebook!


Note taking improves memory

6 Jul

Most of us stop taking notes when we leave school. It rarely occurs to most of us that we might profit from note taking even if there is no exam hanging over our heads. I know this because here at Chautauqua, where lectures are common, I am one of the few people who takes notes and people do not hesitate to express their surprise. On one occasion, the lecturer even asked why I was taking notes.

note book

I take notes because it helps with memory. It helps in both the obvious sense of recording information I may want later. For, example at yesterday’s lecture Chris Hayes praised the book  The Starfish and the Spider  and today I ordered a copy from Amazon.

But notes help memory in a less obvious fashion. The act of taking notes by itself helps us to remember material. Note taking helps us pay attention and it promotes encoding into long term memory.

note book pen


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