Should Students Take Notes on Laptops? Research Says ‘No’.

Should Students Take Notes on Laptops? Research Says ‘No’.

Given the ubiquity of mobile technologies in today’s society, many teachers are interested in incorporating devices into the classroom setting. This may be through direct use of technology in a lesson plan or by simply allowing students to take notes on laptops in class. In their paper, “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer note that although students believe that their use of laptops in class is beneficial overall, students on laptops are generally not on task during lectures (1159). Moreover, students who use laptops in class have decreased academic performance (due to multi-tasking and internet browsing) and actually report being less satisfied with their education than students who do not use laptops in class (1159).

In this paper, Mueller and Oppenheimer posit that, “even when distractions are controlled for, laptop use might impair performance by affecting the manner and quality of in-class note taking” (1159). In particular, laptop use has been linked to verbatim note-taking, since students can type faster than they can write (1160). Compared to students who paraphrase notes, students who type verbatim notes have poorer academic performance.

“Verbatim note taking has generally been seen to indicate relatively shallow cognitive processing” (1160).

To better understand the effects of laptop note taking, Mueller and Oppenheimer ran an experiment with 67 students who took notes on a TED talk. The room was set with either laptops or paper notebooks, and students were encouraged to take notes as they would in a class. After the video, the participants were asked to complete two five-minute distractor tasks before they were asked a series of questions about information presented in the TED talk (1160).

The Findings

  • Students who took notes on paper (longhand notes) wrote significantly fewer words than the students who typed
  • Students who typed took more notes, but more of those notes were verbatim
  • Typed notes were on average 14.6% verbatim
  • Longhand notes were on average 8.8% verbatim
  • Students whose notes were less verbatim performed better on the information recall questions

In their second experimental study, Mueller and Oppenheimer examine whether telling students not to take verbatim notes could ameliorate the problem. In this study, one group—the laptop intervention group—was encouraged to paraphrase notes taken on a laptop, rather than copy information verbatim. The results were that, “the intervention was completely ineffective at reducing verbatim content, and the overall relationship between verbatim content and negative performance held” (1163).

“Telling students not to take notes verbatim did not prevent this deleterious behavior” (1166).

In their third experimental study, Mueller and Oppenheimer examined how students’ opportunities to review their notes affected their academic performance. The four groups in the study included: (1) Laptop notes with the chance to study, (2) Laptop notes with no chance to study, (3) Longhand notes with the chance to study, and (4) Longhand notes with no chance to study (1165). Their study revealed that students who took longhand notes and had the opportunity to study them performed better than students in any other group (1164).

“Even when allowed to review notes after a week’s delay, participants who had taken notes with laptops performed worse on tests of both factual content and conceptual understanding, relative to participants who had taken notes longhand” (1166).

Paper Title: “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking”

Authors: Pam A. Mueller (Princeton University) and Daniel M. Oppenheimer (UCLA)

Full Paper

Published: Psychological Science, Volume 25, Issue 6, 2014, pages 1159-1168

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