I posted some links to other education-related articles today, but I felt this one deserved a dedicated post. The article is Laptop Note-Taking: External Brain-Booster or Memory Drain? at edweek.org. And the article itself starts off perfectly:
As more and more districts roll out 1-to-1 laptop and tablet initiatives, new research suggests students may be better off sticking to traditional pen and paper longhand for taking and studying notes.
The article links to a study at the journal Psychological Science. The full journal article requires pay access, but the abstract is free to view. The edweek.org article goes on to summarize the study.
In a series of experiments published in the June edition of Psychological Science, Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of California Los Angeles found that students taking notes on a laptop could include more material—but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
Students taking notes by hand are forced to summarize and synthesize the information. The results in better retention and understanding, both in the short- and long-term; i.e. better learning. This echoes a previous post I had in June about a NY Times article. Why is this the case?
There’s plenty of research on the benefits of summary paraphrasing in learning, but what’s interesting is that handwriting seems to force students to take summary notes. Most people just don’t write fast enough to copy lectures word-for-word. But even when, in the second experiment, students on laptops were specifically told not to take notes verbatim, they did so anyway. Typing seems to make it easier to zone out a bit during a lecture, letting your ears connect to your fingers without really making their way into your conscious thought.
As we roll out iPads to our children en masse, and encourage laptops and other technology at the high school level, we should consider this basic research and temper our enthusiasm. It’s not that the technology is unproven. The technology has actually been proven to be detrimental, if in an “opportunity cost” sort of way. But opportunity costs in education, I suspect, will have a way of turning into real costs a generation down the road. “Screens” can be a great tool, and have had amazing effects on general productivity in the US over the last three decades. But you should only use a new tool when it provides greater benefit. Combine this with the cost question (part 1; part 2), and it’s not difficult to figure out where to shift our priorities.