The pen is mightier than…the laptop
This week in her column Pick My Brain, Caitlin Brown examines a now commonplace occurrence in a college lecture—students taking notes on laptops.
It just so happened that in my morning lecture yesterday, I found myself sitting directly behind just such a student. Our professor rationalized on the first day of class that we, as bright, budding scholars, could be trusted to use our laptops for good and not evil—i.e., to use them to actually take notes and not to catch up on work, email, and our favorite Tumblrs.
This particular student, however, took few notes while spending the majority of the lecture checking her email, perusing the New York Times and casually online shopping. I was quickly sucked in by her distraction, partially because I wanted to know what was up with the Times’ video headline, and partially because I was amazed by her commitment to everything but taking notes.
Of course I’m only human and as prone to distraction as the next person. During lectures I think about what I need to accomplish that day, or more likely what I’m going to make for dinner. But I know from my own experience that I am much more likely to focus without a laptop in front of me as a constant source of temptation.
And while I generally don’t involve myself in others’ methods of note-taking, when they’re actually taking notes, they usually aren’t distracting. For all I know that student absorbed every word, but I certainly didn’t.
In fact, most of my professors haven’t even allowed laptops in class, my current professor being the notable exception. Even though I only got in the habit of taking notes the old-fashioned way because I had no other option, I’ve actually found that there are real advantages to pen and paper.
In my experience, I retain the material from lectures better when I handwrite my notes. With a laptop, I could type pretty much word for word what the professor was saying, essentially producing a transcript of the class. Because I simply can’t write as fast I can type, taking notes by hand forces me to take the time to put the ideas from the lecture into my own words. This task in itself usually keeps me focused in class.
It may not be the most popular stance, but I think lectures without laptops make for a better class for everyone. Although the general trend seems to be moving toward laptop domination, maybe it’s time to try our hands at pen and paper once again.
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