Effective Note-Taking: Strategies Beyond Keyboarding v. Handwriting by Jamie Lewsadder

By Chief Technology Officer, Mrs. Jamie Lewsadder,

In the recent past, researchers have begun to ask very important questions about teaching and learning aided by technology. Two articles, one from the Scientific American in 2014 and a second from NPR in 2016, citing the same researchers, reveal that students who write out notes displayed a deeper understanding of material than those who typed their notes.

As a quick summary, typing notes results in more verbatim records of the lecture compared to longhand notes resulting in more selective records. Researchers believe that different types of cognitive processing occurs when writing out the notes allowing for categorization and sorting of the information. Through a series of experiments, they discovered that students who write out notes “listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information” which they believe leads to comprehension and retention.
As the champion of instructional technology for our district, my job is to process this research and design lessons and strategies for our student and teachers that focus on improving or assisting the learning process. After digging into this topic, I discovered research going back to the 1970’s talking about the needed note-taking skills in undergraduates. This reveals that if we remove technology from the equation, the issue is more about effective note-taking strategies and the processing of those notes. I would suggest a follow-up experiment that offers students note-taking templates like Cornell notes, outlines, or charting designed for very specific types of courses. Templates would set students up to have structures allowing for similar cognitive choices found when writing out notes.
This brings us to one of the core beliefs of our laptop program. We have a chance to teach our students about how they learn as an individual. If students had an opportunity to set up their own experiment, what would they discover? Our charge is to offer strategies. We can help students develop a strong sense of self-efficacy to make the right choices.
Based on the research from the two articles, we know students who write out notes will retain more, but we want more than that happening. The lesson does not stop with the lecture. The lesson begins with course policies that aid in protecting student learning and continues after with how to make meaning using those notes.
Harvard produced this 30-page guide for both students and instructors on the research and insights of note-taking. It is an interesting starting point.
For students:

  • Take generative notes: record notes in your own words to focus on the content, not verbatim, which focuses on production of notes over comprehension.
  • Review early and often: write down questions you still have and talk to your teacher or a peer.
  • Test yourself on the content

For instructors:

  • Explain your rationale for course policies: Explain to students the impact of policies on their learning.
  • Provide students with material before lectures to orient them towards important ideas or topics: Establishing even minor familiarity with the content can allow for deeper understanding during class.
  • Encourage students to take notes in their own words
  • Help make connections between current and past content

In conclusion, our roles, whether student, teacher, parent, or professional, involve note-taking. To maximize our learning, we must make deliberate choices about what we record and then take an active approach with those notes.
Here are four final ways to engage with your notes:

  1. Our tech intern decided to handwrite notes for this school year, then take pictures and put them in his Google Drive account.
  2. I use an App called Evernote that allows me to type notes, save articles from the web and then annotate them, and my notes are available on any device I have with me.
  3. Sketchnotes are a great next step with notes to really process the gems. Caution: Sketchnotes are done after taking notes the traditional way.
  4. For those wanting a refresher on Cornell notes, check out this LifeHacker article.