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Published February 23, 2014 | Multidisciplinary

To Take Notes or Not - That is the Question

Setting the Scene

On November 14, 2013, the English services of Profweb and APOP teamed up to deliver another online webinar to the Quebec college community. Although thirteen people attended the presentation, Profweb’s editorial team realizes that the issues discussed address a much larger community. This column is an attempt to make this information available to a wider audience.

Asking Questions

As more and more teachers put information in online resources, the value of student note taking has been called into question. Are students better off concentrating on the material or synthesizing information and noting it in written form? As teachers, do we put information on line or do we force students to take notes?

Visual outline of the information/knowledge relation

Visual outline of the information/knowledge relation. The original image was by Hugh MacLeod @gapingvoid. It was later adapted by Bob Marshall ‏‏@flowchainsensei. This image was made by Profweb (2014).

As the slide above indicates, this is a topic that has troubled many within our teaching community. In this webinar, teachers who have written articles in Profweb on note taking were invited to describe the changes that this issue has wrought in their methodology. As well, researchers who have studied the effectiveness of students taking notes in class discussed the results of their research.

As were the participants in the webinar, our readers are invited to state their views and compare their procedures with those of their colleagues.

Proposing Answers

Profweb’s pages abound with teachers who have put an enormous amount of information online. Greg Mulcair’s Physics class web resources were featured in a Profweb story in May 2012. His students have not stopped attending class, even though occasionally some of his classes are virtual. Greg sees his resources, which have now been transferred to Moodle, as a way of enriching the student learning experience through the provision of multiple methods of accessing knowledge. But, will they be able to access this information later?

David Adley feels that many students have never been taught how to take notes. Students come to him to discuss a point, but they can't describe it well enough to target the information or, if they have notes, they can't find where the information that they want to discuss is located. He proposed a system where student notes could be shared between the student and other members of the class as well as the teacher to generate more pertinent discussion.

Tina Weston is a psychology researcher at York University whose work has focused on the mechanics of optimizing the long-term retention of classroom material. Given that 65% of today’s students carry laptops to class, she has been researching the effects of laptop multitasking during class on students’ concentration, and her contribution to this webinar presented the result of this work.

Surprising Conclusions

The presentation underscores the growing quantity of information that is available to students in class through information technology. And, an interesting fact that emerged from this presentation was that using technology in class for purposes unrelated to class content impairs learning, both for the learner and those sitting nearby. Furthermore, the research presented seemed to indicate that given the amount of information available to students, taking notes actually impairs their ability to retain and process course content.

How do you deal with the issue of note taking in your classes?

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