August 8, 2022

The Notetaker’s Dilemma; To Type or to Write

Students browse the internet. Photo by Veronica Andreades
Students browse the internet. Photo by Veronica Andreades
Students browse the internet.
Photo by Veronica Andreades


by Veronica Andreades ‘19


“They must be fish tanks,” I thought as I watched clear boxes slide by on my neighboring classmate’s screen. My attention was distracted from the teacher’s chalkboard scribbles. One can only wonder what a Gordon student wants with a fish tank. Maybe it wasn’t even for fish.  I wasn’t trying to be nosey, but in light of the fact that we were in class, I expected to see a half-full Word document.

          Many of my peers use their laptops in class. Sometimes, professors will even ask us to retrieve our devices to complete a quiz or exercise. However, it may be the presence of such electronics that detracts from our overall development and acquisition of knowledge. To this point, some argue that writing in a notebook helps one stay focused. Instead of having the world wide web available during class, paper and pen restrict the boundless places one’s attention might be tempted to wander. After all, shopping for a new pair of Vans has little to do with developing one’s understanding of the amygdala. At the same time, however, others affirm that they are diligent on their Macs and pull together a robust set of notes by the end of class. Due to the sheer speed at which one can type, they can record more information.

Yet, research suggests that even if a laptop-user was solely focused on taking notes during class, his friend who was scratching away beside him with a ballpoint is actually retaining more information. In 2014, a study titled “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard,” conducted by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer (from Princeton University and UCLA, respectively), found that people who typed their notes had a harder time recalling conceptual material than those who used pen and paper. Students who used computers for note-taking were recording more material, but they were not processing as much as those who were handwriting what they heard.

While one might appreciate the cover of a PC in order to respond to emails and even conduct some digital housekeeping as the professor ventures into what seems to be a rabbit trail, there is something to be said about giving into the present trend of constant stimulation. It may seem like a more efficient use of time to have your Netbook open during a lecture, but it also could be sabotaging your attention span. Now that we’ve been “trained” to read short news snippets on the internet and update everyone on life in 140 characters or less, we sometimes find ourselves impatient when asked to sit for an hour and listen to a lecture. According to some research done by Microsoft Corp., we can congratulate ourselves on now having shorter attention spans than goldfish. Ultimately, a less distracting note-taking tool would promote a counter development to this trend.

I have nothing against clean, bullet-pointed outlines. But maybe it is time to return to the old-fashioned way of taking notes, in the same way that we have returned to listening to Vinyl and wearing watches. Note-taking is for the purpose of retaining and recording information, and it is better done when a computer is not present. We are less distracted with paper and more likely to remember concepts. Not having access to all things digital can improve our focus, which can then bolster the rest of our studying.

In sum, it seems that it would serve us better to avoid screens in class.

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