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The Benefits of Analog

Authored By: 
James Vescovi, English Teacher

For Professor Carol E. Holstead, the “moment of truth” about note taking came when she found her students continually using social media during lectures.

“I could not compete with Facebook and YouTube, and I was tired of trying,” she writes in “The Benefit of No-Tech Note Taking,” which appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Competing with the Internet is a problem that all professors and teachers struggle with, including here at Beekman. Like any piece of technology, laptops and iPads can be used well or misused.

In Holstead’s case, she instituted a policy that allowed students to only take notes by hand during lectures. Like other educators, she found that when her students took notes by computer, they transcribed every word; when they took notes by hand, they recorded facts and ideas in their own words.

Research has shown the benefit in longhand note-taking. In one study published in Psychological Science, 327 student on three campuses watched a TED lecture while taking notes—some with computers, others by hand. Thirty minutes after the program ended, the subjects were tested on facts and concepts. Results showed that while both groups equally remembered facts, students who took notes by hand did better at remembering conceptual ideas.

A second test was given a week later, with students allowed to study their notes for 10 minutes. The results: students who took handwritten notes did better in both concept and factual areas. Other studies report similar findings.

Holstead, a professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, did an end-of-semester survey after instituting her note-taking policy. Eighty-six percent of her students said that they paid the same or better attention in class without a laptop, while 52 percent said they paid more attention.

Prof. Holstead concludes, “I’m convinced that while laptops have a lot of good uses in the classroom, note taking is not one of them.”